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What We're Watching: The world ignoring Brazil, El Salvador's strongman, the US' vaccine stash

Why is the world ignoring hard-hit Brazil? In response to the COVID crisis pummeling India, foreign governments quickly mobilized: the US, the UK, Singapore, Thailand, and the EU have all sent much-needed oxygen tanks, medical supplies, and materials to make vaccines. But now many analysts — and Brazilians — are questioning why the same goodwill hasn't reached Brazil, where the death tally of 410,000 (the world's second highest) is a much larger percentage of the population. Brasilia's pleas for help have, they say, often fallen on deaf ears. One explanation is that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has simply made himself too many enemies: he has not only dismissed the severity of the pandemic but has also insulted much of the international community whose help Brazil, which relies heavily on medical imports, needs. Who could forget that Bolsonaro called French president Emmanuel Macron's wife "truly ugly," and questioned US President Joe Biden's electoral win? But in recent months, Bolsonaro's administration has also chided China (his economy minister recently said China had "invented the virus" and others have mocked Chinese-made vaccines), endangering ties with Brasilia's main supplier of vaccines. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has certainly been a divisive and confrontational figure at home, but he has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs.

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Migrants on the move

"We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children." So said US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this week. US Customs and Border Protection reports an average of 565 children traveling alone now crossing the border per day, up from 313 last month.

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El Salvador's president wins big. What does this mean for the country and its neighbors?

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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US election seen from El Salvador: Will the "demonization" of migrants end?

Sergio Arauz is a political reporter for the newspaper El Faro, in El Salvador. Our conversation has been translated from Spanish and edited for length and clarity.

Alex Kliment: What are a few areas in which the US election could affect El Salvador?

SA: I think the presidential election in the US could have an important influence on Salvadoran politics because of the close relationship that the American embassy has with the administration of [Salvadoran president] Nayib Bukele.

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Has El Salvador solved its crime problem?

For years, the tiny Central American country of El Salvador, population 6.5 million, has been one of the most dangerous places on earth. In 2015, it held the dubious title of "murder capital of the world" with a homicide rate of 103 people per hundred thousand inhabitants.

Much of that violence comes from powerful transnational gangs, like MS-13 or the 18th Street Gang, which were born in American prisons and came to El Salvador with deportees in the 1990s.

Last year, Salvadorans, tired of the established parties' inability to rein in the mayhem, elected a brash young political maverick to the presidency. Nayib Bukele, a 38-year old entrepreneur and former mayor of the capital city, promised a fresh and pragmatic approach to governing and tackling crime.

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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Salvadoran gang crackdown, Taiwan and the WHO, Russian (dis)information

El Salvador's crackdown on gangs: After days of violence that left at least 60 people dead across the country, El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele authorized a "lethal" crackdown on gang members. The president said that after months of relative quiet on the streets of the Central American country because of coronavirus quarantines, gangs are taking advantage of a distracted government to wreak havoc. Most of the recent attacks were directed by gang members already in custody, prompting authorities to round up hundreds of semi-naked inmates, packing them together on prison floors while guards ransacked their cells. Human rights groups say that even before this, the virus was spreading wildly in notoriously jam-packed jails throughout Latin America. El Salvador has long been a hotspot of gang violence and human rights abuses, with police committing hundreds of extrajudicial executions between 2014-2018 as part of a state-sponsored crackdown on street gangs. The combination of a surging coronavirus outbreak in El Salvador, and emboldened gangs who dominate much of the country's informal economy, is a recipe for disaster.

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