Institutions and Competition

Russia's vaccine can help Latin America, but faces obstacles

August 31, 2020
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Now that prominent s.British peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet has reported that recent trials of the Gamaleya-developed "Sputnik V" Covid vaccine shows no adverse affects and generates antibody response, Kremlin supported efforts to produce and further test the vaccine and make it available worldwide later this year could help mediate the public health crisis in Latin America, which, with the United States and India ranks as one of the three major Covid hotspots. In the Arab world, where the Gamaleya-developed "Sputnik V" vaccine is being tested in Saudi Arabia, the english language online version of Cairo-based Al Ahram, has given front page coverage to The Lancet article discussing Russia's new vaccine.

For background purposes, look at the numbers. As of 30 August, Bolivia's neighbor Argentina has 401,239 cases and 8,353 deaths. Chile has 408,008 cases and 11,181 deaths, Mexico has 571,712 cases and 63,819 deaths, Colombia has 599,884 cases and 19,063 deaths, Peru has 629,961 cases and 28,471 deaths and Brazil has 3,846,193 cases and 120,262 deaths. By contrast, the United States has 5,92,402 cases and 183,020 deaths. Indonia has 3,543,736 cases and 63,498 deaths. The Associated Press reported on September 1st that Russia now has just over 1 million cases.

Please note that these data are the latest available from the respected Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center at the time of this writing. They are updated on a daily basis

Brazil mainstream media in print and online, including Globo, UOL and Folha have reported that the government in Brazil's Parana State, in the europeanized southern region of the nation, has agreed to a testing and possible licensing program with Russia for the vaccine, pending approval by the nation's regulatory agency ANVISA. It should be noted that Parana State, particularly the capital city of Curitiba, is home to the nation's largest agglomeration of citizens of Russian, Ukranian, German, Polish, Hungarian and Jewish heritage.

Reuters is now reporting that the Russian organzation responsible for commercializing vaccine, the Russia Direct Investment Fund, will eventually manufacture the vaccine in Brazil. In addition, Brazil media now reports that the government in Bahia state has signed an accord to test Sputnik-V Covid vaccine on its citizens. The agreement with Bahia state, according to Reuters, contains a confidentiality agreement. Once Sputnik V is approved by requisite authorities in Brazil, the developers will have an opportunity to test the vaccine on a population-market where many citizens consider themselves Afro-Brazilian and "mixed race." The governor of Bahia State is Rui Costa, a member of the Worker's Party (PT), the party of former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva. Former defense minister Jaques Wagner, also a member of the Workers Party (PT) is currently serving as a Federal Senator representing Bahia State.

Media in Russia and in Peru have reported that the Russian ambassador in Lima has approached the government with a proposal to test the Gamaleya-Sputnik V vaccine in Peru. So far there is no news of an official response from the Vizcarra regime. While Peru's COVID infection rate is trending toward one million cases, London's gossipy Fleet Street press, meanwhile, has been covering the life of prominent Hamptons socialite and New York Times book reviewer Alex Kuczyinski, who has recently recovered from the Covid virus. Alex is daughter of former president of Peru, Pedro Paulo Kuczyinski (known as PPK). PPK was sentanced to three years pretrial detention by Peru's jutice system for allegedly taking bribes from Brazilian construction and consulting giant Odebrecht.

Pushback from Team Trump

A major challenge facing Moscow's Sputnik V vaccine breaking into the competitive Latin American market is the concerted effort by Washington policymakers to push back against any efforts by the Kremlin to project influence (which includes humanitarianism and goodwill) in a region which some American influencers still regard as "Uncle Sam's Backyard." As the afforementioned link indicates, a U.S. Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) started arriving in Colombia in June of to help the current regime in Bogota with drug trafficking, peacekeeping issues, and to promote what U.S Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Commander-in-Chief Admiral Craig Faller calls "the promise of shared ideals and values."

In March, Brazil's right wing populist leader Jair Messias Bolsonaro, often called the Trump of the Tropics, made the first ever visit by a Brazilian president to the SOUTHCOM headquarters in Florida. Bolsonaro met with Admiral Faller and other senior officials to discuss increased information sharing and expanding defense cooperation between the Bolsonaro and Trump administrations. Bolsonaro became infected with the COVID virus in July, after attending a barbecue at the official residece of U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman, to celebrate the anniversary of America's declaration of independence. Both men did not wear masks at the event. Ambassador Chapman subsequently tested negative for the COVID virus. President Bolsonaro subsequently quarrantined in the Alvorado Palace presidential residence, and with a team of doctors following his case closely, he made a rapid recovery and is back to campaigning for the 2022 presidential election, not wearing a mask, attracting large crowds, including young children.

Bolivia and Dollar Diplomacy

One can even see a textbook case of old school American "Dollar Diplomacy" at work in Bolivia. Since dicovering its first case in March, the Johns Hopkins Covid tracking agency reports that Bolivia, a nation with a population of just over 11 million, has 115,534 confirmed cases of Covid and 4,938 deaths. Those numbers are small considering that Latin America, with 6 million cases, is now the global Covid hotspot.

While its more politically stable neighbors are facing public health challenges on a far greater scale, recent events suggest that Bolivia is the only Latin nation to overtly employ the Covid virus as a policy tool to foment a process of national reorganization-- from populist socialism to neoliberal governance. One can also contend that this process is being conducted by a problematic interim regime that itself came to power under circumstances as questionable as those used by to try to hold onto power by the very government it deposed.

Bolivia's "November Surprise"

Led by coca grower turned politician Evo Morales, Bolivia has been part of the “pink tide” group of nations that includes Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina that has challenged Washington's hegemony in Latin America. But late last year Bolivia's got a “November surprise”when the commander-in-chief of the armed forces called for the resignation of none other than president himself.

Evo's efforts to hold onto power via electoral fraud roiled the Organization of American States (OAS), the nation's Hispanic elites, billionaire narcotraficantes, and those interests who still have financial exposure in Bolivia.

His position unsustainable and his life in danger, Morales resigned. He was granted political asylum by the government of Mexico, which has a tradition of providing sanctuary to leftist leaders. Thanks to the good offices of Mexico's foreign minier Marcelo Ebrard, Evo was flown out of Bolivia on an official Mexican aircraft and arrived in Mexico City on November 12th.

General Williams Kaliman, the man who called for Morales to step down, resigned shortly thereafter, being replaced as commander-in-chief of the armed forces bya another general who was named by the new interim president. Kaliman's Wikipedia biography indicates that he attended the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

Evo's stay in the Mexico did not sit well with the government of president Lopez Obrador, nor with Mexico's neighbor, the United States.

Leaving Mexico on December 9th, he made a short “medical visit” in Cuba, then landed in Buenos Aires on December 12th, where the leftist Peronist regime of president Alberto Fernandez and his vice president, former president Cristina Kirchner de Fernandez, granted him political asylum.

An accidental president

With Morales gone, and the entire presidential line of succession established under the constitution having been purged (some say "resigned") for political reasons, the nation's leadership fell into the hands of senator Jeanine Anez, a second vice president who made herself available to serve the nation when it became apparent that the constitutional line of presidential succession had run out.

The telegenic former newscaster, lawyer and former television network executive moved quickly to establish a new Electoral Tribunal (court) and joined with other politicians in suggesting that elections be postponed until May. She also told Bolivian and international media that she would not be a candidate for president in the May election.

Then, on January 24th, Reuters reported that Anez had changed her mind and decided she would indeed run for president. This sparked new riots, looting and killings by police, military units and thugs with shady ties to Evo's MAS party. The Americas Society offers a good explainer article discussing the candidates and their backgrounds. Wikipedia also offers a discussion of Bolivia's coming presidential vote, offering recently updated predictive information from polls conducted by political public opinion organizations.

Dollar diplomacy and the covid conundrum

The entire political-psychological situation changed with the first reported cases of the coronavirus in March, six weeks after Anez declared her candidacy. While the numbers have been small, the kill rate is high. Bolivia's historically underfunded public health infrastructure imploded, unable to handle the crisis. Meanwhile the interim president has advocated improving relations with the United States, which were disrupted and downgraded during the Morales era. The interim regime also supports some of the regional policy initiatives being promoted by the Trump administration, including the choice of a controversial American to lead the Inter-American Development Bank, which, historically is a job that is awarded to Latin Americans.

Starting in April, the dollars started flowing in. The interim government of Bolivia under interim president Anez has received just over $1 billion in loans and financial instruments from the three Washington-based multilateral lending organizations to preserve Bolivia's democracy and economic security during the Covid pandemia.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) provided a loan of $450 million. The International Monetary Fund executive board approved a facility for $327 million to help Bolivia address the Covid crisis. And in May the World Bank announced a $254 facility to help mitigate the economic impact of Covid on Bolivia.

In Bolivia, the newspaper Pagina Siete has reported that the nation will need at least $6 billion dollars to mitigate the economic impact of the public health crisis. Considering the high level of corruption reported in neighboring countries relating to diverting funds designated for public health into the hands of political clans, prospective donors may want to proceed with caution in Bolivia and elsewhere. Moody's downgraded Bolivia's outlook to B-1 and negative back in March when the nation reported its first cases.

Mainstream media, online media, Latinamericanists, and consultants consider interim president Anez to be a long shot to win the October presidential election. But one wonders if Arce, who for so long lived in the shadows as Evo's economy technocrat, has the charisma to unite the nation, let alone maintain the trust of the military leadership. Mesa, an old school politico, who the armed forces might feel somewhat more comfortable with, resigned from office during a 2 year stint (2003-2005) as interim president because he couldn't control the rising "pink tide". The often neoliberal Financial Times has reported that Anez is in it for the long haul.

Update 18 Sept.

Several MSM sources today including New York Times are reporting that Anez has "withdrawn" as a candidate in the coming presidential election. This may help the candidacy of Mesa.

Should elections take place on October 18th, the results will offer some clues as to whether traditional "dollar diplomacy" will continue to roll back the "pink tide" in Latin America.

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