Vaccine soft power in LAC (April 21, 2021)
Latin America's desperate need for coronavirus vaccines are an opportunity for China, Russia and (to a lesser extent) India to vie for markets and political influence, reports Nodal. Russian and Chinese vaccine sales and donations in Latin America and the Caribbean -- the world's hardest hit coronavirus region -- could have "lasting geopolitical effects in a region long seen as relying on its behemoth northern neighbor for international leadership, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Vaccine inequality is an increasingly salient issue worldwide -- and is particularly notable in Latin America and the Caribbean, the world's hardest hit coronavirus region. Anger is swelling against the U.S., which has vast vaccine supplies while many countries in the region struggle to inoculate tiny percentages of their population, notes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report. There is a marked contrast between countries in the region struggling to cover their most vulnerable populations and the U.S. and Europe which have secured supplies doubling their populations. Most countries in Central America have vaccinated less than one percent of their population. (AS/COA has a tracker.)
The U.S., a traditional major player in the hemisphere, has been notably absent in the "vaccine diplomacy" game, except in attempting to block certain advances like China's wooing of Paraguay. (See April 2's briefs.) In the Caribbean, "governments have sought the assistance of partners such as the United States, China, India, Russia, and the African Union for help in acquiring vaccines, and all but Washington have responded with donations or agreements for vaccine purchase," notes Wazim Mowla in Real Clear World.
"Biden has sought to mark a change from his predecessor’s lack of engagement with Latin America, and yet he has not provided the region with what it needs the most: cooperation in guaranteeing access to vaccines," wrote Genaro Lozano in Americas Quarterly recently.
While this could change as the U.S. advances in inoculating its own population and starts exporting more of its supplies, "China and Russia have likely benefited politically and economically in the short term from their early vaccine distribution efforts in the Americas," argues Rebecca Bill Chávez, in the Latin America Advisor.
While Chinese vaccines are proving less effective than Western counterparts, most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are prioritizing obtaining any kind of jabs, explains Evan Ellis in yesterday's Latin America Advisor. Indeed China is proving to be a critical partner for Latin American countries desperate for pandemic supplies, notes Nodal. And Covid-19 vaccines have already given China considerable leverage in Latin America, reports the New York Times.
Chile is shifting its Covid-19 vaccination strategy toward issuing second doses, while slowing administration of new shots, due to concerns over supply shortages and data showing scant protection from one dose of the Sinovac vaccine that formed the backbone of its campaign, reports Reuters.
An Argentine firm has produced test batches of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. The company aims to scale up manufacturing of the drug by mid-year, reports Reuters.
As Cuba advances with its own vaccine developments, the jabs could form part of the country's strong tradition of medical diplomacy in the region and further afield, Javier Corrales said on the Americas Quarterly podcast.
Nicaragua's shrinking electoral playing field
It has been three years since Nicaragua's "April Rebellion," the anti-government protest movement that was brutally repressed by the Ortega government. At least 328 people were killed, and 2,000 wounded. At least 1,614 were arbitrarily detained, and more than 100,000 people went into exile as a result of the repression.
The April 19 anniversary was marked by arrests and violent police raids targeting anti-government activists, including presidential precandidate María Eugenia Alonso, reports Confidencial.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the "generalized impunity" that persists in Nicaragua, and called on the government to take steps to restore democratic institutionality. Instead, two years after the Ortega government signed an accord to free political prisoners and restore civil liberties, the legal situation has deteriorated markedly, according to civil society groups. Four laws passed last year aim to restrict NGO's, press freedom, and punish "hate crimes" with life jail sentences. (Confidencial)
Nicaragua will hold presidential elections in November, but they are unlikely to be free or fair given the current circumstances. (Americas Quarterly) Last week President Daniel Ortega sent an electoral reform package to the National Assembly that critics say aims to further restrict electoral liberties. Ten Nicaraguan presidential precandidates signed an agreement rejecting the reform, which they say "institutionalizes a repressive regime against political opposition." (Confidencial, La Prensa)
One pre-candidate, independent Arturo Cruz, has proposed inviting international luminaries to serve as electoral guarantors, and suggested former U.S. presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush participate. (La Prensa)
On Monday, the Ortega loyal National Assembly approved a call for candidates for the electoral council, who can only be nominated by Ortega or lawmakers. (Confidencial)
President Daniel Ortega's brood of offspring -- eight out of nine -- work for the family in various ways, from serving as government advisors, to media moguls, to oil distribution. But they must respond at all times to the orders of their mother, the vice president, reports El País.
Guatemala's justice system is at a breaking point, warns prominent anti-corruption judge Gloria Porras in an Americas Quarterly essay. Guatemalan lawmakers recently blocked her from swearing in to the country's highest court, a move that Porras identifies as "a direct threat to the authority of the Constitutional Court, which since Guatemala’s transition to democracy has played a pivotal role solving high stakes controversies in a democratic, institutional manner." (See last Wednesday's post.)
Guatemala's government backtracked on a measure that would charge a fee for freedom of information requests. (Ojo con mi pisto)
Guatemala's judicial crisis is particularly salient for the U.S., which is taking aim at corruption in Central America as part of its efforts to tackle the root causes of migration. "We have a strong national interest in ensuring stability and good governance in Central America. And we want to work with those who are pursuing that same set of interests," Ricardo Zuñiga, the Biden administration's special envoy to the Northern Triangle told AFP.
The Biden administration is considering pressing Guatemala to address governance issues, ranging from investment to corruption, reports CNN. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to lead the high-stakes negotiations on the issue on her upcoming visit to the country.
The U.S. Biden administration will set aside 6,000 seasonal guest worker visas for people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in the coming months, a small step toward establishing more legal pathways to the United States from the region, reports Reuters.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants the U.S. to give work visas to Mexican farmers who participate in a government tree-planting program, Sembrando Vida. Mexico has tried to extend the program to El Salvador and wants the U.S. to help finance an expansion to other Central American countries, reports the Associated Press.
Despite the more humane discourse that the U.S. government has had towards migrants since President Joe Biden took office this year, the U.S. continues to wage a war on migrants, argues Belen Fernandez in Al Jazeera.
Dominican President Luis Abinader yesterday urged the international community not to leave the Dominican Republic alone in the face of insecurity and political instability in Haiti, immersed in a “Somalization” spiral, reports EFE.
Dozens of U.S. and Brazilian celebrities -- including Leonardo DiCaprio and Gilberto Gil -- have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to not sign any environmental deal with Brazil as deforestation in the Amazon rises, reports the BBC. (See Monday's briefs.)
Officials are concerned about a coronavirus surge in Ecuador, where long waiting lists for intensive care unit beds, the spread of more aggressive coronavirus variants and a slow vaccine rollout are all exacerbating the situation, reports EFE.
The Wild-West style political standoff between Argentina's national government and the opposition led city of Buenos Aires over in-person school deepened yesterday. A federal court ruled that classes should be suspended -- in keeping with a presidential emergency decree from last week -- until the Supreme Court rules on a jurisdiccional challenge presented by the Buenos Aires city government. Nonetheless, Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta maintained in-person teaching today, though teacher strikes mean that significant numbers of Buenos Aires children now have neither virtual nor in-person teaching. (Ámbito)
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