The politics of COVID aid and compassion: India vs Brazil

Images depicting India and Brazil's COVID crises

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?


Scope of the crises. Both India and Brazil are experiencing catastrophic outbreaks of disease. These countries have the two highest death rates in the world, recording 2,367 deaths (Brazil) and 3,571 (India) respectively on average over the past 7-days. (However, data coming out of India is vastly undercounted.)

Both are seeing a steady stream of new daily cases and deaths: Brazil and India recorded 28 new cases per 100,000 on average over the past week. But there's one big difference: while India's deterioration has been recent and swift, Brazil's crisis has been relentless over the past 12 months.

Global (in)action: While both Brazil and India are spiralling, the international response to India and Brazil has been vastly different.

For India, the Biden administration mobilized to deliver $100 million in emergency aid in mere days, and directed vaccine supplies to Indian drug manufacturers.

And while critics have pointed out that US aid to India is still too stingy, compare that to to Washington's tight-fisted approach to Brazil: despite repeated appeals for help from Brazilian officials, Washington has doled out just $19.7 million in pandemic-related aid over the past year, including less than $2 million for hard-hit Amazonian communities as they were literally fighting for breath. Similarly, Brussels has offered help to India, while remaining apathetic towards Brazil. (Germany recently sent 80 ventilators to the Amazonian city of Manaus.)

Why?

Politics is personal. One contributing factor is that Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has not cultivated much goodwill from the international community over the past few years. The brash populist has denied the severity of COVID, scuttled states' efforts to implement lockdowns, and sowed doubt about vaccines' efficacy. And his history of insulting world leaders hasn't helped: He amplified a social media post describing French President Emmanuel Macron's wife as "ugly," and questioned President Biden's electoral victory. Meanwhile, his own government has managed to insult Beijing (mocking Chinese-made vaccines and tweeting racist content about the origins of the pandemic) despite the fact that Brazil depends heavily on China — its largest trade partner — for vaccine supplies.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has cut a different figure. Although he is a divisive leader who has made a series of recent blunders in handling the pandemic, he has not diminished the seriousness of COVID-19, and has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs. That approach appears to be working better than Bolsonaro's.

The power of the diaspora. At 18 million, India has the world's largest diaspora, 17 percent of whom live in the United States. As India's crisis spiraled, student groups and non-governmental organizations around the world quickly stepped in to raise funds. Indiaspora, a DC-based non-profit, announced that it had raised $1 million in just 48 hours. Meanwhile, GoFund said that 60,000 donors from 106 countries had contributed to India-related fundraisers since April 17.

While Brazil also has a sizable diaspora population, 450,000 of whom live in the US, its size pales next to India's. And there has been almost nothing comparable in terms of online fundraising.

Acute vs chronic disease. Since COVID exploded in December 2019, hotspots have come and gone. But Brazil's crisis has been more or less constant for a year now. COVID cases — and deaths — have continued to plague populous states like São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Many people around the world seem to have gotten used to things being very bad in Brazil.

India, on the other hand, seemed to have things under control as recently as March. The crisis appeared to come out of nowhere just as economies in Europe, North America and elsewhere were preparing to reopen. This created a sense of global panic and served as a call to action because no one is going back to normal until we all are.

At the moment, neither Brazil nor India is close to that.

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In its current form, this is the biggest diversion of public funds into the private sector to achieve strategic goals in many decades. The details of this package, and of the Senate vote, say a lot about US foreign-policy priorities and this bill's chances of becoming law.

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What do America's policies around the world mean for jobs, the economy, and the future of the country's future? This Tuesday, June 15. at 11 am ET, GZERO Media presents a a live discussion on trade, immigration, and how domestic issues like racism and deep partisan divides impact America's standing in the world. Our event, which is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, is free and open to the public. Please register to attend.

Judy Woodruff, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, will moderate the conversation with:

  • Donna Edwards, Member of Congress (2008-2017)
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
  • Miriam Sapiro, Managing Director, Sard Verbinnen & Co. (SVC) and Former Acting and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
  • Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Advisor, New America

Special appearance by Governor Thomas H. Kean, Chairman of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 11 am - 12:30 pm ET

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Listen: Is there a path to democracy for Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus? Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discusses her hopes and fears for the country with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World Podcast. President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained a tight grip on power in Belarus for the last 26 years and rigged the results of his last election which led to widespread protest and unrest in his country, though few consequences globally. But will he now be held accountable after diverting a flight between two European capitals to arrest a dissident journalist? And just how close are he and Vladimir Putin?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Nigeria's federal government earlier this month blocked Twitter from the country's mobile networks, after the social media company deleted a controversial post from President Muhammadu Buhari's account. The move by Africa's largest and most populous economy comes as many governments around the world are putting increased pressure on social media companies, with serious implications for free speech.

So what actually happened in Nigeria, and how does it fit in with broader trends on censorship and social media regulation? Eurasia Group analysts Amaka Anku and Tochi Eni-Kalu explain.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

What's the significance of the US-China bill, competition bill that passed the Senate earlier this week?

Well, the bill is a major investment in American technology, research and development, semiconductor manufacturing, and it's designed to push back on the China Made in 2025 push that lawmakers have become increasingly worried about in recent years. The opinion in Washington has shifted from seeing China as a strategic competitor to a strategic rival. And you're seeing what's now likely to be one of the only bipartisan bills in Congress now pushing back on that. Significant money for semiconductors in this bill, even though some of it was set aside for automotive purposes. That money's not going to come online fast enough to really make a difference to the current global semiconductor shortage, but it will help build up US long-term spending capacity and manufacturing capacity in semiconductors.

Other aspects of the bill, banned the application TikTok from going on government devices out of security concerns, created new sanctions authorities around Xinjiang and Hong Kong for human rights abuses, and mandated a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which is probably going to happen anyway once the Biden administration is able to align with its allies. Let the athletes play. Don't let any high level delegations go. This is probably the only bipartisan bill to happen this year, yet still, half of Senate Republicans voted against it because they were opposed to the kind of industrial policy they think this represents, but it does show the area where there's bipartisan agreement in a city that's very, very divided right now. China is the bad guy and Congress is moving in that direction.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What do you expect from President Biden's first European trip since taking office?

Well, first, it will be sort of reconnecting with Europe, reconnecting with the European Union, with NATO, with the partners in the G7, and going really from the initial message, which was, "we are back," to a more concrete message, "here is what we could potentially do together." That is the expectations. And let's see how it turns out.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

When President Biden and President Putin meet, will cybersecurity will be a key issue that they discuss?

Now, I'm sure that there will be many thorny issues on the table. But after American fingers pointed to Russia and hold it responsible for the SolarWinds hack, it's likely. Criminals in Russia were also not hindered when they held the Colonial Pipeline Company ransom through a ransomware attack. And really, when journalists and opposition leaders cannot speak a single critical word without being caught, how come cybercriminals can act with impunity in Russia? So the need for prevention and accountability really is significant. And I hope the President Biden can push and persuade Putin to change the confrontational and aggressive course that he is on.

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Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET

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Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET

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