What We're Watching: The world ignoring Brazil, El Salvador's strongman, the US' vaccine stash

What We're Watching: The world ignoring Brazil, El Salvador's strongman, the US' vaccine stash

Why is the world ignoring hard-hit Brazil? In response to the COVID crisis pummeling India, foreign governments quickly mobilized: the US, the UK, Singapore, Thailand, and the EU have all sent much-needed oxygen tanks, medical supplies, and materials to make vaccines. But now many analysts — and Brazilians — are questioning why the same goodwill hasn't reached Brazil, where the death tally of 410,000 (the world's second highest) is a much larger percentage of the population. Brasilia's pleas for help have, they say, often fallen on deaf ears. One explanation is that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has simply made himself too many enemies: he has not only dismissed the severity of the pandemic but has also insulted much of the international community whose help Brazil, which relies heavily on medical imports, needs. Who could forget that Bolsonaro called French president Emmanuel Macron's wife "truly ugly," and questioned US President Joe Biden's electoral win? But in recent months, Bolsonaro's administration has also chided China (his economy minister recently said China had "invented the virus" and others have mocked Chinese-made vaccines), endangering ties with Brasilia's main supplier of vaccines. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has certainly been a divisive and confrontational figure at home, but he has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs.


Salvadoran strongman confirms worst fears: When president Nayib Bukele's New Ideas party won a decisive victory in legislative polls in February to secure a two-thirds supermajority, many feared it would embolden the 39-year-old Bukele, who has already shown strong anti-democratic tendencies, to tighten his grip on power. And that's precisely what happened this past weekend when Bukele's party voted to fire five top supreme court judges and replace them with party loyalists. Bukele then proceeded to dismiss the attorney general after the judiciary deemed the congressional vote "unconstitutional." Shortly after, the very online Bukele, who has clashed with the nascent Biden administration over El Salvador's increasing authoritarian drift, tweeted that the judges had been "FIRED," by the people, when in fact, the events resembled what some analysts have described as a "Coup d'état." This development is likely to deepen tensions with Washington, which needs Bukele's cooperation to manage surging immigration from the Northern Triangle countries, but which has also made the defense of democracy a foreign policy priority.

Will the US share vaccines? The Biden administration faces intense criticism that the US is hoarding vaccines at a moment when COVID is ravaging India, Brazil, and many other countries, threatening Africa, and forcing new restrictions in Europe. In response, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain announced on Sunday that the US would enter talks with the World Trade Organization on how to "get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared." But the process isn't as easy as it might appear. Officials at vaccine-maker Pfizer say the company applied for approval in India "months ago," and that the work of Indian regulators needs to be expedited. Plus, even if intellectual property rights are waived in response to this deadly emergency, there are shortages of material and formidable logistical problems that would still have to be solved.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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