What We're Watching: Colombians hit the streets, Indian state elections, Turkey locks down

A demonstrator holds a flag during a protest against the tax reform of President Ivan Duque's government in Bogota, Colombia, April 29, 2021.

Protests are back in Colombia: This week, tens of thousands of Colombians hit the streets of the country's big cities in the first major wave of street action since the late 2019 mass protests over inequality. The primary trigger for the current demonstrations was a major proposed tax increase. The government says the tax hike is necessary in order to give the state the resources it needs to pull Colombia out of the COVID-induced economic crisis, but critics say that some of its provisions — in particular services taxes — inflict too much of a burden on an already-suffering middle class. Protesters also highlighted other issues, such as the unchecked killing of social activists, broadening insecurity in the country, and frustration with the slow pace of the five-year old peace process. When GZERO Media spoke to prominent Colombian journalist Camila Zuluaga last year, she warned that pent-up grievances from before the pandemic would lead to a fresh "social explosion" this year. It looks like the fuse has been lit. The next major protest has been called for May 19.


Crucial state elections in COVID-devastated India: India is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with over 3,600 deaths recorded on Thursday alone. But that didn't stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from urging millions of Indians to vote in-person in the final stage of a state election in West Bengal, a race with nationwide political implications: Modi's ruling BJP party thinks it has a shot at winning in West Bengal, which the BJP has never governed and is currently run by Mamata Banerjee, one of the PM's fiercest critics. However, Modi's flouting of COVID safety norms in order to secure a political win may have backfired: exit polls now show Banerjee is likely to stay in power despite the BJP's strong performance in recent voter surveys. If the numbers hold, it'll be a major blow to Modi, who has until now defied political gravity to maintain a high public approval rating despite his government's poor handling of the pandemic and other political crises. We'll be watching to see if the BJP receives further blowback from Indians if bodies keep piling up across the country.

As COVID crisis worsens, Turkey locks down: As many parts of Europe start to reopen after a relentless third wave of infection, Turkey is now entering a strict national lockdown for the first time since the pandemic began. Although the country was praised by the World Health Organization last fall for its containment efforts, the COVID crisis has exploded there in recent weeks, and it's now the worst in Europe: Turkey recorded a high of 60,000 daily infections in late April, 10 times more than in February. Critics say that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted COVID restrictions too early, and that the vaccine rollout remains sluggish (because of vaccine shortages, second shots in Turkey are being given six-eight weeks after the first dose, rather than the advised 28 days). The highly contagious UK variant B.1.1.7 is the most dominant strain throughout Turkey, experts say, and reflects the fact that despite fast inoculation drives in countries like Israel, the US and the UK, the global health crisis is far from over. Turkey's lockdown measures will be in force until at least May 17, a massive blow for Turks wanting to spend Ramadan and Iftar meals with extended family and friends.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

In a frank (and in-person!) interview, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

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.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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