What We're Watching: Latin America's vaccine shortage, Juneteenth a new national holiday, China cracks down on HK free press

People stand among graves of victims of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and of others, at the municipal cemetery No. 12 in Tijuana, Mexico May 21, 2021

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, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.


Juneteenth to become a US federal holiday: The US Congress has passed a bill making June 19 an official federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The bill immediately went to President Biden's desk, and he enthusiastically signed it into law. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers proclaimed the freedom of slaves in Texas, a state where enforcement of President Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration, announced some 2 years earlier, had been sluggish. The bill was approved by a huge majority (415-14) in the House of Representatives and unanimously in the Senate, an important sign of unity at a time of hyper partisanship. Indeed, it stands in contrast to continued efforts to pass a bill on police reform, which have stalled in recent months because vast disagreements persist between Republicans and Democrats. It's the first time that a new federal holiday has been added to the slate since the early 1980s, when then President Ronald Reagan signed a law establishing Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.

China targets HK pro-democracy media: Hong Kong police arrested on Thursday five editors and executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, accusing them of the bogus charge of conspiring with foreign powers to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong. It's a sharp escalation of China's push to end basic freedoms in the city, and the first time Beijing has brazenly used its draconian security law for the territory — passed over a year ago — against the independent media. China already issued a warning to Apple Daily last December by detaining its owner Jimmy Lai, one of Hong Kong's richest tycoons, who was later sentenced to 14 months in prison for leading pro-democracy protests in 2019. But even behind bars, Lai remained defiant, urging his reporters to continue doing their job. Now that'll be much harder, as Apple Daily will struggle to pay staff with its bank accounts frozen upon orders from Beijing. More broadly, other independent media outlets in Hong Kong — including the veteran South China Morning Post, owned by billionaire Jack Ma — now know exactly what'll happen to them if they publish stories Beijing doesn't like.

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On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

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A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

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:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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