COVID REALITY CHECK: From March 2020 we were told by a range of international institutions that Covid-19 could decimate poorer countries, and the world could fall into two different coping tracks: that’s now happening in stark terms. While Europe, the U.S. and Canada are winning their Covid-19 fight thanks to vaccinating a majority of their populations (in Canada 78 percent have at least one shot), the pandemic death toll is accelerating globally, largely thanks to the more transmissible Delta variant.
Because of ineffective vaccine distribution systems, the world is also on two different economic tracks (The Economist details the fragility here). We take a look at the social unrest that is happening in Colombia further down in the newsletter. There are some signs of hope but, in what is now a Covid-19 pattern, they’re sporadic and not on the needed scale. Two cases in point:
1) UNICEF — the delivery arm of the COVAX vaccine facility — is putting into practice an existing advance purchase agreement to supply 35 million doses of the J&J single shot vaccine to Africa in 2021, and up to 220 million doses by the end of 2022. That comes as many parts of Africa are bracing for their worst surge of Covid-19. “Less than 1 percent of the population of the African continent are currently vaccinated against Covid-19. This cannot continue,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore told Global Translations. “In the race to defeat this virus, equity is not a ‘nice to have’ — it’s an absolute necessity.”
2) The United States this morning delivered around 1.4 million doses of the J&J vaccine, to Afghanistan, via COVAX. Another 2 million doses are expected in coming weeks, as Afghanistan faces by far it’s biggest Covid outbreak: 12,000 cases a day with just 2 percent vaccinated. Even with those doses, nearly 90 percent of Afghans won’t be vaccinated by the end of summer. They’ll have to choose what to worry about most: Covid or the Taliban.
BIDEN’S BIG AFGHAN GAMBLE: The theoretical case for leaving the Afghanistan quagmire is clear: the U.S. has invested $2 trillion dollars and several thousand lives over 20 years, for only a mild level of protection against terrorism.
While veterans groups have applauded the move, and President Joe Biden’s confidence in it is full-throated, the gains are clearer for Biden than for Afghanistan.
Biden is making three huge bets — two global and one domestic: First, that the Afghan government, which until now has been unable to stand on its own two feet, will somehow manage that minus the military support of 36 other nations. Second, that terrorism is no longer the main geopolitical game in town. Instead, American resources must be directed toward containing China, and dealing with new forms of warfare from cyber to bio attacks. Thirdly, the domestic bet is that Donald Trump will not be able to cast Joe Biden as a war-monger, especially because Biden is doing something Trump couldn’t: getting out of the Afghan quagmire.
The riskiest bet is around the Afghan government’s capabilities. Biden said Thursday “they clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place,” arguing that 300,000 government troops versus 75,000 Taliban is a clear advantage. But waging terror — whether it’s Al-Qaeda or the Taliban — doesn’t depend on numerical superiority, and the U.S. intelligence community has warned of an imminent collapse of the Afghan government as the Taliban gains territorial control of the majority of the country
Food for thought: The political calculus around Afghanistan withdrawal will likely work in Biden’s favor in the short term. But will it change if a major terrorist attack occurs in a democracy that can be traced back to Afghanistan? How will you react if the Taliban sweeps into Kabul later in 2021?
SYRIA — NO U.N. AGREEMENT ON HUMANITARIAN ACCESS, BUT MUDDLING THROUGH LIKELY: Ireland and Norway may win agreement to their proposal to double the number of humanitarian access points into Syria (from one to two) — the proposal is now in circulation in what is expected to be its final form. But as Saturday’s deadline to re-approve the current single access point approaches, there’s still no agreement. Ireland and Norway are pushing for a “technical rollover” of the current mandate so that, in effect, nothing changes on the ground at the border until a new agreement is reached.
HAITI — MORE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION STORY: We’re only partly into a very thick plot. More than two dozen allegedly professional killers have been arrested, including two Americans and former Colombian military officers. The Taiwanese embassy suffered a major break-in the day after the assassination (Haiti is one of only 15 countries that maintain full diplomatic ties with Taipei).
The arrests have occurred during an official “state of siege” which means the interim prime minister imposed martial law, halted all flights and sealed the country’s borders, a situation that highlights that the assassination is the center of a debate about whether and how Haiti functions as a state. Jovenel Moïse, the assassinated president, dissolved parliament in January 2020 and ruled by decree since. Armed gangs now control large portions of the country, which has not recovered from a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000.
There’s continued jockeying over whether a planned election should take place — and leading Democrats inside and out of the administration disagree on what the American line should be. Patrick Gaspard, who’s taking over the Center for American Progress think tank, said, “I believe fiercely in the power of elections. Now is NOT the time to be putting a premium on forced elections in Haiti. That is a misguided and dangerous approach.” The State Department, which medevaced Haiti’s first lady Martine Moïse to Miami on Wednesday afternoon, said “it is still the view of the United States that elections this year should proceed,” per spokesperson Ned Price. “We have urged the Haitian government and stakeholders repeatedly to reach a political accord to ensure legislative and presidential elections take place this year.”
TIME FOR A HUMAN TRAFFICKING AMBASSADOR?: U.S. State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Based on the report, Kehinde Togun, Humanity United’s senior director of policy, told Global Translations the best structural change the U.S. government could now make is naming of a TIP ambassador, because “the lack of a TIP Ambassador hampers the US response internally, but also the ability think globally about how to respond to trafficking,” he said.
Expected to be in the spotlight in coming months: Qatar — host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The government “has not yet committed to properly implementing measures that center the dignity and rights of workers,” and didn’t start implementing measures until 2017, Togun said.
GLOBAL TRANSLATIONS MEETS THE OLYMPICS, JULY 13: The delayed Tokyo Olympics are set to kick off amid a Covid state of emergency for Japan’s capital. With fans banned from attending, financial pressure to push forward and potential punishment for the growing number of athletes considering making political statements during the event, this will be a Games like no other. Organizers have said they are determined to move forward. Join Global Translations author Ryan Heath for a POLITICO Live virtual conversation with Anita DeFrantz, First Vice President, International Olympic Committee on what’s at stake in the Tokyo Olympics as a global health crisis, sports and politics all come to a head. Register here to watch live.
COLOMBIA’S VICE PRESIDENT AND FOREIGN MINISTER AND FINANCE MINISTER
Colombia’s vice president and foreign minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez, and Finance Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo — leading a delegation of business leaders — have a strident message for Washington and Wall Street, nine weeks into protests that have led to at least 24 deaths across Colombia. They told Global Translations in an interview Thursday evening that Colombia is committed to democracy and free expression, to prosecuting rogue police, and using private enterprise to grow its way out of the poverty and inequality that has triggered the current crisis.
A growing band of critics around the world are skeptical that all is well in Colombia: more protests are planned for July 20, two credit ratings agencies have downgraded the government’s bonds, and the Organization of American States this week criticized the police for using “excessive force” in dealing with the protests.
Ramírez said she is focused on ensuring Colombia democratic institutions are credible: “This is the real insurance of the economy.” Ramírez directly rejected the posturing of Jair Bolsonaro, president of neighboring Brazil, who on Thursday publicly questioned whether Brazil should go ahead with its 2022 presidential election. Ramírez said “we live for democracy, 1,000 percent. We truly believe that the future of our country depends on having a very good quality of democracy, with strength and independence in every single institution. There is no chance of postponing elections in Colombia. We are going to have a new election next year. We are never going to accept anybody who wants to postpone elections in Colombia.”
Why two trips to the U.S. in a month? “When everybody’s facing this social unrest, when all democracies are suffering, we want to strengthen relations with the most important democracy,” Ramírez said. Colombia’s access to credit is also on the line: “We believe in our government in working together with the private sector: we are clear that governments last only four years, so what we want is to have very close ties with the private sector, because they have to continue the economic recovery,” no matter who wins the next election, she said
Six million more Colombians in poverty during Covid: The Duque government’s preferred medicine is jobs. “The best social policy is not to give free money to the people (but) to create jobs for the people in order to have a stable income for families,” Ramírez said.
What’s behind the 15,000 protest gatherings of recent weeks? “At least 90 percent of them were real and sincere. So many young people or civilians said ‘we’re not happy with the conditions of life today.’” Ramírez said she respects those actions and “wants to work with these people,” but draws the line at what she said is a combination of guerrillas and ex-guerillas, gangs and radicals who strategically blocked 150 transport arteries around the country. “They’re blocking oxygen to go to the hospital, they block ambulances! And they kill people because ambulances cannot move,” she said. “It was well designed, and it cost money.”
Colombia has already invested 11 percent of GDP in stimulus measures and tripling its budget deficit, but the government was forced to repeal an unpopular tax plan. What might glue the country back together? Restrepo said that there will be more investment in education — in some cases making college free — and subsidies for small businesses. All options will be considered to fund those measures: from crackdowns on tax evasion to debt-raising domestically and globally. “We will work together with multilateral agencies and banks. That’s why we were here. That’s why we had meetings with the World Bank, with the Inter-American Development Bank, and yes also with the IMF. We are considering the importance of IMF Special Drawing Rights and we’re considering the importance of the flexible credit line,” Restrepo said.
On criticism of excessive force being used by authorities against protesters: “We accept some of the criticisms. There are three police [officers] that have been prosecuted because of the excess, because of use of force,” Ramírez said. She touted her police reform credentials, supporting more training and transparency in police conduct.
EU — GETTING STRAIGHT WITH ORBÁN: The EU will hold up Hungary’s request for $8 billion in grants under the EU’s recovery fund, officially because of problems with its spending plan. Hungary is frequently among the EU countries with the highest fraud rates in the spending of EU grants — and famously built a three-mile tourist railway and a soccer stadium next to the prime minister’s home village. The population of Felcsút can fit into the soccer stadium twice over.
But the move coincides with the implementation of local law censoring LGBTQ information available to under 18s in Hungary, which many EU officials and political leaders from other European countries see as a final straw in Viktor Orbán’s bending of EU rules and democratic norms. The backdrop is a year-long debate that has seen the EU inch toward financially punishing members that break other EU rules. Paola Tamma has the story, and here’s the legal case for the European Commission to use its new powers to put wide-ranging conditions on its grant money.
TAX — EUROPE TWEAKS ITS DIGITAL LEVY PLANS: “Washington told the EU not to tax its tech giants. So Brussels is making plans to tax everyone instead.” That’s the read out from my colleague Bjarke Smith-Meyer on how the EU responded to U.S. pressure to amend its tax plans. The European Commission is eyeing a 0.3 percent tax on the goods and services sold online by companies operating in the EU with an annual turnover of €50 million or more, officials briefed on the plans told POLITICO.
Paris, meanwhile, is ready to make a binding promise to the U.S. to remove a national tax on digital giants as soon as a new global taxation deal is in force. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters, “I am prepared to make a formal, legally binding, commitment in the draft budget law to indicate to our American friends that the day the OECD tax is implemented, the national tax … disappears.”
WILL BLUE STATE WORKERS SAVE TRUMP COUNTRY? Some struggling towns want to lure entrepreneurially inclined high-earners to move-in, others hope to convert failing manufacturing sites into Covid supply facilities. Mackenzie Mays takes a tour of plans in the works across her home state West Virginia, which she left, to ask: can Trump Country rebrand, and at what price?
FIRST TECH AND DIPLOMACY THINK TANK: The Center for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue, bills itself as the first think tank dedicated to the intersection of technology and foreign policy. Mung Chiang is the founding director.
RE-OPEN NOW, TRAVEL INDUSTRY DEMANDS: Airlines for America, the U.S. Travel Association and 22 other groups have urged the U.S. government to reopen international travel on July 15, leaving restrictions only on people traveling from countries with the highest Covid risk.
SUMMER READING LISTS
For the EU wonks: The European Council for Foreign Relations has summer “entertainment recommendations” while the German Institute for International and Security Affairs has collected a summer reading list, complemented by the SWP Podcast.
China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy, by Bloomberg journalist Peter Martin
Partisan Schadenfraude, by Steven W Webster and Adam N Glynn
How Sweden’s first labour movement embraced technological change — as a lever to demand higher wages
The Most Senseless Environmental Crime of the 20th Century: killing 180,000 whales to fulfill a Soviet economic quota.
Thanks to editor Ben Pauker and Nahal Toosi.