What We’re Watching: Guyana’s windfall, freedom in Iran, and Maduro babies

Guyana rags to riches – If you knew your income would triple over the next four years, what would you do? That's the wonderful (and fascinating) problem facing the small South American nation of Guyana after the recent discovery there of one of the world's biggest offshore oil reserves. The country's 780,000 people are currently awaiting the results of the presidential and legislative elections held earlier this week. The winners of that vote will be responsible for guiding this nation through one of the most dramatic increases in national wealth in recent world history. At the moment, Guyana's GDP per person is less than $5,000. As it goes from being one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries per capita to one of its wealthiest, will Guyana's people prosper? Or will this country fall prey to ethnic divisions as citizens of African and Indian descent fight for the spoils. Will it suffer what political scientists call "the resource curse" as a tidal wave of new money warps the economy and feeds rampant corruption? Stay tuned.


Free Time in Iran – Are you stuck in an Iranian prison and want to go home? Good news. You're free to go. If you have tested negative for Coronavirus. And you're serving a sentence of less than five years. To this point, Iran is home to the deadliest Coronavirus outbreak outside China. Afraid that overcrowded prisons help Coronavirus spread, Iranian authorities announced this week that 54,000 prisoners will be freed temporarily. We'll be watching to see how they spend their "free time," and how difficult it might prove to return them all to jail in the future.

Maduro babies – "Every woman should have six children for the good of the country." So says Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, president of a country that is home to severe shortages of food and medicine. By having more children, he seems to believe, Venezuela can eventually end its politically driven economic collapse.

What We're Ignoring

A used orb – remember that strange glowing orb that Donald Trump, Saudi King Mohammad Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi all put their hands on during Trump's state visit to the Saudi kingdom in 2017? This video will jog your memory. According to a new book by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard, that orb is now in US possession. The orb was apparently offered to the US government as a souvenir, one that US officials have no idea what to do with. We're ignoring this story because, though the Signal team is very interested in buying an orb for our office, we don't buy used orbs.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.