Welcome to the Latin America Foreign Policy Letter. I am a Rio de Janeiro based journalist covering the region for outlets like Foreign Policy, NPR and PRX’s The World. I’ve lived in Brazil for the past eight years, even though I grew up in Texas.
This week’s highlights: Latin American nations Denounce the inequality of the vaccinePower outages fuel the Debate over Mexico’s energy gridand the face of Carnival looks different during quarantine.
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Mexico condemns growing vaccine gap
At the meeting of the United Nations Security Council on February 17, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard condemned the “hoarding” of coronavirus vaccines by wealthy nations. He said that while the joint initiative COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to ensure global access to vaccines is important, it is not enough to address the crisis.
Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also urged vaccine manufacturers to work with developing countries to increase production capacity.
The chorus of criticism voiced in the Council this week could help the United Nations and the World Health Organization raise donors and vaccine manufacturers to strengthen their collaboration with COVAX, which has not yet distributed doses.
While a COVAX director said earlier this month that the initiative aims to deliver vaccines to 3 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean Islands by June 2021 and 20 percent by the end of the year, the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization said Thursday that the Schedule for COVAX broadcasts will not be confirmed until February 23.
The Latin American governments have so far struggled to supplement the COVAX cans with other agreements with manufacturers who have already promised most of their shipments to wealthy nations. So far, 75 percent of all vaccines have been distributed in just 10 countries, said UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Guterres called on the G-7 to step up global efforts to gain access to vaccines at their meeting scheduled for today. He also called on the G-20 countries to set up a task force to do the same, stressing their power to influence pharmaceutical companies and logistics companies.
Brazil’s role reversal. Today, Latin America may not have much geopolitical weight on global health. But that has not always been the case. During the AIDS crisis, it was pressure from Brazil alongside India and South Africa that prompted the World Trade Organization to approve the suspension of patents on medicines in emergencies. However, this year Brazil has spoken out against such initiatives related to COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.
Side effects of deficiency. Peru erupted into scandal this week when it was revealed that former President Martín Vizcarra and his wife were among 487 people to receive COVID-19 vaccines before vaccinations were supposed to officially begin in the country earlier this month. The country’s health minister and foreign minister resigned.
The Cuba bet. Cuba may still be the first Latin American country to develop a successful vaccine. Phase 3 trials of one of its four vaccine candidates are scheduled to begin next month. If the shot works well, it is expected to be exported to other Latin American countries. Cuba and Iran are collaborating on Phase 3 trials of the Soberana 02 vaccine, and Mexico is currently considering a Phase 3 trial.
Monday, February 22nd: Discussion on the political crisis in Haiti in the UN Security Council.
Monday, February 22nd: The UN Human Rights Council opens its first of three regular sessions for 2021 with addresses by Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo.
Tuesday, February 23rd: COVAX will announce schedule for vaccine shipments to Latin American countries.
Tuesday, February 23rd: Argentine President Alberto Fernández visits Mexico.
Mexico’s electricity stubborn. More than 4 million people in northern Mexico lost electricity in a winter storm this week, which led to intensified scrutiny of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal to drastically reduce the participation of private utilities in the country’s electricity grid. Proponents of a more open energy market suggest that private companies could not only help fill service gaps, but could also help make the sector far more environmentally friendly as public administrations increase reliance on coal.
Cross. The US authorities have begun to allow asylum seekers who were forced to wait for their court dates in Mexico under a Trump-era rule to enter the US. Three hundred people a day will participate from a total group of around 25,000 people. The New York Times looked at the experience of a Honduran father and son who crossed the border on February 17 after being kidnapped while waiting in Mexico.
Warnings about Nicaragua. According to a new report by Amnesty International, the government’s crackdown on dissent, which began during the government’s protests in 2018, has escalated through detentions, harassment, measures to inhibit human rights organizations and the media, and the end of international scrutiny. Earlier this month, the UN Commission on Human Rights announced that Nicaragua would not implement the recommendations issued in 2019.
Open season in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro issued decrees raising the gun limit on Brazilians from four to six. People in some professions, such as police, can own eight, and hunters and marksmen no longer need army permits to purchase up to 30 and 60 weapons, respectively. Public safety experts warned that the new measures would increase the risk of gun violence, including political violence; Bolsonaro himself said after the January 6 uprising in the US Capitol that Brazil could face “something worse”.
The “godfather of salsa”. Johnny Pacheco, born in the Dominican Republic and co-founder of the New York record label Motown of Salsa, died on Monday. Fania Records began selling its releases out of a trunk in Spanish Harlem in the 1960s. With Pacheco’s musical arrangements, the label catapulted the careers of artists like Célia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe and Rubén Blades to international fame.
Carlos Menem, the former Argentine president, who also passed this week, had a personal style – he wore a red Ferrari and giant sideburns – that matched the boldness of his reshaping the country. Which of these changes did Menem not make during his tenure as president from 1989 to 1999?
A) Link the Argentine peso to the dollar
B) Participation in the founding of the South American trade union Mercosur
C) Amnesty for leaders of the military dictatorship
D) Identifying those behind a 1994 bombing in a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires
In focus: Carnival in quarantine
In cities across Latin America and the Caribbean, this week usually brings streets full of pre-Lent parties. Rio de Janeiro, home of the supposedly largest carnival celebration in the world, waived an estimated $ 1 billion in the city due to the cancellation. While the COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, many carnival performers have recorded performances that allow a virtual tour of the festival’s diversity.
In Barranquilla, Colombia60 dances in traditional costumes and cloth masks were transformed into two and a half hour special shows to showcase the festival’s various local dances, including cumbias. the Afro-Colombian Mapalé; Farotas; and Garabato, the dance of life and death.
From BrasilYou can hear traditional carnival sambas from Rio de Janeiro bands like Boitatá, the more frenetic Frevo from the city of Recife in the north of the country, and a carnival show from the rising star Àttooxxá, which blends the many Afro-Brazilian rhythms of the state of Bahia.
In Oruro, Bolivia’s most famous carnival city, the Artists’ Union, said “we can’t minimize the festival” with a scaled-down performance so that TV stations re-broadcast past festivities in all their glory.
Trinidad and Tobago The National Carnival Commission opened a virtual carnival museum where visitors can follow the history of the festival from pre-emancipation to the present. The museum recounts how it was the efforts of the British colonists to suppress working class culture that led to the Anglicization of Carnival. Calypso songs were now sung in English rather than French. Still, Calypso has retained its subversive power. The artists of the faster spinoff Soca have released their own new tracks for Carnival 2021, including “Cabin Fever” and “Private Party”.
“You confined in your head?” asks one of the Soca songs. “What happened to your fantasy?”
D) Identifying those behind a 1994 bombing in a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires
Menem’s insistence on pegging the peso to the dollar through the late 1990s was part of a series of economic reforms that included extensive privatizations and contributed to the collapse of Argentina in 2001. The hook has since been removed, the amnesty against military leaders was lifted during the tenure of former President Néstor Kirchner, and Mercosur is far weaker today than it was when it was founded. Impunity for the 1994 bombings remains, however, and efforts to thwart their investigations, including the 2015 murder of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, cast a long shadow over Argentine politics.
That’s it for this week.
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