What We're Watching: Brazil's specific COVID challenges, Biden's Iran test, India's COVID budget

Municipal health workers walk along the Solimoes river banks, where Ribeirinhos (river dwellers) live, before applying the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the residents, in Manacapuru, Amazonas state, Brazil, February 1, 2021.

Brazil's COVID nightmare: President Jair Bolsonaro's pandemic leadership in Brazil has been characterized by denial and incompetence, leading to the world's second highest death toll behind the US. But why is Brazil's COVID experience so bad even in a year of global catastrophe? First, the new strain out of Brazil, which mutated because the virus was allowed to run rampant, might be changing the pandemic's trajectory in a big way, experts say. Second, in the hard-hit city of Manaus in the Amazon rainforest, which was thought to have developed high levels of immunity because of a massive outbreak last year, many people are now getting reinfected and becoming very sick. Hospitals in Manaus are again inundated, and people are dying simply because there isn't enough oxygen support to go around. Additionally, in playing down the virus' severity and employing a lax approach to vaccine procurement, Bolsonaro cost the country precious time: Brazil now has 6 million doses handy, enough to vaccinate just 3 million people out of a population of 213 million. Yet the president is still sowing fear and doubt: "If you turn into a crocodile, that's your problem," he said about why he's not getting vaccinated.


Biden's Iran challenge: The Biden administration has made clear that reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions is a foreign policy priority. But how — and when — to begin serious dialogue with the regime remains to be seen. While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes in re-engagement because he says Iran has a breakout time (the time needed to ramp up uranium enrichment to make a nuclear weapon) of about "three to four months," Blinken, a moderate, also remains cautious. He argues that rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal "would take some time" and depends on Tehran's willingness to comply with the JCPOA provisions. But Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan recently seemed to suggest a speedier timeline, citing the urgency of curtailing Iran's bellicose behavior and nuclear program, which have ramped up in recent months. The UN's nuclear watchdog has estimated that Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium had risen 10 times more than that allowed under the deal's terms (3.67 percent) to about 20 percent. Clearly, managing the situation with Iran is the Biden administration's first major foreign policy test.

India's COVID budget: The Indian government on Tuesday unveiled a $477 billion national budget proposal that aims to significantly boost health spending for the next 12 months as the country continues to battle the world's second highest COVID infection rate. Reactions to the proposal so far have been mixed: For the opposition it doesn't provide enough direct relief for Indians who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, while some economists have lauded the budget for what they say are realistic expectations on revenues to encourage future spending without inflation as the country's GDP is expected to grow at a lower-than-expected rate this year. But opponents of the plan say that this modest approach will hit the neediest Indians hardest. Importantly, the proposal includes no extra support for farmers, who have spent the last two months protesting against new laws to make Indian agriculture more-business friendly that smallholders fear will put them at the mercy of large agribusiness corporations. We're watching to see if Prime Minister Narendra Modi's gamble on a swift "V-shaped" economic recovery for India — which largely depends on the government's ability to create jobs in the informal sector — pays off, and whether his penny-pinching with farmers will revive the angry mob of tractors.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

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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:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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