What We're Watching: VP Harris on Central America trip, FBI dupes crooks, India reverses course on vaccines

US Vice President Kamala Harris

VP Harris tours Central America: US Vice President Kamala Harris this week embarked on her first official foreign trip since assuming that role, making stops in both Mexico and Guatemala. After immigration became a major political headache for the Biden administration, with Central American migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border in historic numbers in recent months, Biden tapped Harris to oversee issues related to the root causes of mass migration from Central America (which he distinguishes from the so-called "border crisis''). Harris, for her part, has been pushing the US private sector to invest more in the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — that are plagued by corruption and crime, and account for the bulk of migrants arriving at the US' southern border. Harris has also engaged in vaccine diplomacy to shore up support, announcing that the US will ship COVID vaccines to both Guatemala and Mexico. Immigration is a massive electoral problem for President Biden, with polls suggesting that 48 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue. Harris is trying to fix that. But analysts say that this trip is also an opportunity for the VP to bolster her own foreign policy bonafides as she looks at a future presidential run.


Global crime ring duped: More than 800 alleged members of an international crime syndicate have been arrested in a global sting operation coordinated by Australia, Europol, and the FBI. How did they get busted? Law enforcement authorities tracked their nefarious plots involving drug smuggling, money laundering and even murder on ANOM, a secret messaging app that the crooks believed was untraceable. The whole operation was a ruse coordinated by the FBI, which had its informants distribute customized devices loaded with the app following an earlier crackdown on similar encrypted messaging services. Indeed, the operation reveals that cooperation among law enforcement agencies on different sides of the globe can be more successful at times than direct coordination between the governments that oversee them, especially when it's about fighting transnational crime. More broadly, we'll be keeping an eye on how the same agencies might work together to combat cyberattacks, which have risen significantly in recent months and overwhelmingly target national governments and private corporations.

Modi's vaccine U-turn: As India gets ready to reopen its economy after its recent COVID crisis has receded somewhat, embattled Prime Minister Narendra Modi now says the national government will take over the vaccine distribution process, a source of much contention in recent months. Modi says his government will provide free vaccines to all adults, and procure shots for states and private hospitals. It's a massive development considering that state governments and private hospitals have long been competing with the federal government for supplies like oxygen, medication and vaccines, leading to a sprawling black market. India has been flailing since a series of political missteps in February and March, and now records the world's second highest COVID death toll. This is a big about-face for Modi, who at times has responded to criticism of his pandemic management by saying that decision-making resides with the states. Still, Modi's approval ratings have plummeted in the past two months over his mishandling of the latest wave of the pandemic and the country's lackluster vaccine rollout: So far, barely 5 percent of Indians over 18 have received at least one shot, and most experts think it's impossible to inoculate the entire adult population by the end of the year, as the PM has pledged. As the world's top vaccine manufacturer, India's manufacturing shortfalls are also impacting vaccine rollouts in Africa, Asia and Latin America in devastating ways.

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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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:

With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?

Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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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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