Latin America’s unequal vaccine campaign

Governments across Latin America are racing against time, making every effort to inoculate their populations against COVID-19. However, rising case numbers driven by new variants of the virus and short […] The post Latin America’s unequal vaccine campaign appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

Latin America’s unequal vaccine campaign

Governments across Latin America are racing against time, making every effort to inoculate their populations against COVID-19. However, rising case numbers driven by new variants of the virus and short supply of vaccines are threatening the capacity of health care systems once again, forcing countries to take severe measures that could jeopardize the economic recovery. 

Despite having multiple regional cooperation initiatives, Latin American countries have failed to set a common vaccination strategy. While Chile has already vaccinated almost 42% of its population with at least one dose, Argentina and Brazil have vaccinated less than 14%, Colombia less than 6%, and Paraguay less than 2%, according to .

 According to Juan José Arteaga, a Uruguayan retired career diplomat who served as ambassador to Venezuela and Peru, the failure of the vaccination campaigns is related to a breakdown in relationships between Latin American countries. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at one of the worst moments the region has ever experienced since the return to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said in an interview with Latin Dispatch. 

“The fragmentation in Latin America has gotten to a point where there is almost no dialogue between presidents, and all regional organizations are in crisis or have disappeared from the scene. This unfortunate reality has left countries isolated and incapable of reaching a common strategy to secure better access to vaccines.”

 On the other hand, Tomás Listrani Blanco, an professor of political science at Torcuato di Tella University and Belgrano University, pointed out a few notable success stories of multilateral cooperation during the vaccination campaign.

 “Despite the low regional receptiveness to a common approach, President Fernández of Argentina has achieved some isolated success with specific cases of cooperation, from his state visit to Chile that reinforced health coordination, to shipments of vaccines to Bolivia, and the production of an active ingredient for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent to Mexico,” he said. 

The geopolitical implications of the vaccine campaign

Delays in the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative has pushed governments to find vaccines on their own. Although most countries in the region have negotiated with different laboratories, in the early stage, the vaccines available were overwhelmingly the shots manufactured in China (Sinopharm and Sinovac) and Russia (Sputnik-V). 

In this context, Juan González Román, U.S. National Security Council director for the Hemispheric Affairs, accused China and Russia of “commercializing vaccines for political gain” in last week. González also promised that the United States will help distribute vaccine doses to the rest of the world once its own people are inoculated.  

However, governments are running out of time. Argentina’s leftist Peronist government, despite having priority to purchase Pfizer vaccines because of their contribution in phase 3 clinical trials for that shot, ended up and possible delays in delivery. Furthermore, although last August with Mexico to produce doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine between the two countries, 22 million of which would be sent to Argentina, due to , the vaccines have still not arrived. Therefore, the Argentinian government decided to put its initial bets on the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine, purchasing an estimated for its at-risk population.

Despite the initial skepticism from the scientific community towards the Sputnik-V due to the lack of information, real-world studies conducted in and have shown the vaccine has a high efficacy rate in preventing COVID-19. These promising results prompted Argentina’s private laboratory Richmond and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to to manufacture around one million Sputnik-V doses per month in Argentina starting next June. In a President Fernández called the agreement “a great opportunity for Argentina and Latin America to advance in the battle against the pandemic.” 

President Alberto Fernández, who earlier this year came down with COVID-19 despite having received both Sputnik-V doses, recently for Russia’s efforts to supply vaccine doses to Argentina. Fernández also to send the 20 million AstraZeneca’s vaccines they have in stock and are not planning to use to Argentina. Moreover, Fernández has actively supported Mexican President to declare COVID-19 vaccines a common good and waive intellectual property rights. 

Arteaga and Listrani understand that COVID-19 vaccine nationalism led by western countries has prompted Latin American governments to turn to China and Russia for vaccines.  

“Governments have acted in a pragmatic way prioritizing the diversification of their vaccine suppliers, while Brazil and Chile have relied on vaccines from China, Paraguay and Honduras have relied on vaccines from Russia,” Listrani said. 

Both Arteaga and Listrani suggest that even though so-called “vaccine diplomacy” is a clear opportunistic move by Moscow and Beijing to gain prestige around the world, it will not have a major impact on diplomatic alignments.

“Vaccines will certainly open up new possibilities for diversification and intensification of bilateral agendas, but other structural factors prevent an outright foreign policy shift,” Listrani said. “I do not think there will be very significant realignments over vaccine supply. If anything, it may have served as a way for actors to confirm pre-existing inclinations.”

Listrani added that he expects the United States to try to out-do Russia and China at vaccine diplomacy.

“It is my impression that the Biden Administration will use the country’s pharmaceutical and logistical capacity to announce the country’s return to international cooperation,” he said. “In the case of Europe, by contrast, the waning interest in Latin America, in favor of Africa, for example, raises doubts about the immediacy or volume of vaccine supply in the short term. The EU-led vaccination effort still faces serious challenges.”

COVID-19 response and institutional implications: VIP vaccinations

According to Transparency International’s , the response of governments in the region to the pandemic has negatively impacted Latin America’s already-weak democratic institutions. The severe health measures have curtailed freedoms, reduced space for civil society and weakened checks and balances on institutions. Transparency International analysts conclude that these circumstances have led to an unprecedented increase of corruption cases associated with public procurement of medical materiel.

Although in almost every region in the world, politicians and elites have “skipped the line” to get vaccinated before their turn, Latin America has seen a wave of so-called “VIP vaccination” scandals that have led to resignations of public health ministers in several countries.

On February 19, Argentine public health minister after it was revealed that Horacio Verbitsky, a pro-government journalist, had gotten vaccinated at the Ministry of Public Health before his turn. Verbitsky’s confession shocked Argentine public opinion and pushed the government to conduct an official investigation. 

And it wasn’t just Verbitsky. As some health care workers were prominent business people, politicians and trade union leaders have been some of the “VIPs” who have gotten vaccinated before their turn. acknowledged that at least 70 prominent public figures and their families got vaccinated when they were not entitled to, among them former President Eduardo Duhalde, as well as his wife, his two daughters and his private secretary. Moreover, Argentina’s press uncovered a series of explosive VIP vaccination scandals involving young political activists. , La Campora, a pro-government political youth organization close to vice-president Fernández, has facilitated vaccines to its members. 

that President Fernández’s approval rating dropped from 33% last December, when the vaccination campaign started, to 30.7% after the VIP vaccination scandal in early February. Listrani and Arteaga said that such opinion polls reflect the public’s distrust of the political establishment as a whole.

Next October, Argentines will go to the polls to cast their vote for midterm congressional elections, if the elections are not postponed. Listrani thinks that the success or failure of the vaccination campaign will be only one of the issues the electorate will be taking into account.

“Voter preference indicators show that pre-pandemic issues (such as corruption, unemployment, or inflation) are at the top of their concerns, and, legislative elections tend to be punitive for the government in power,” he said. “The main challenges for the ruling coalition have to do with sustaining economic recovery and debt negotiations with the IMF.”

After in 2020, Argentine authorities and the IMF are expecting a rebound of nearly. However, Argentina faces important structural problems; rate, and a tough negotiation with the IMF to restructure its debt on the horizon. 

Although the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is drawing headlines around the world, the vaccination and its challenges is just highlighting the tendencies and phenomena already present in our societies.

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Raúl Castro steps down as Communist Party head

THIS WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA CUBA: Raúl Castro announced that he will step down as leader of the Communist Party of Cuba, bringing to end an over 60-year period where […] The post Raúl Castro steps down as Communist Party head appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

Raúl Castro steps down as Communist Party head


CUBA: Raúl Castro announced that as leader of the Communist Party of Cuba, bringing to end an over 60-year period where a member of the Castro family held a leadership role in the country’s political system.

Castro made the announcement at the opening of the Party’s eighth congress on Friday.

The 89-year-old politician and held several high-level positions in the post-revolutionary state led by his older brother Fidel, including Minister of Defense, vice president and second secretary of the Communist Party. He took over as president after Fidel retired from that role in 2008, and as first secretary in 2011. Raúl passed the presidency on to Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018, but remained leader of the Party. Díaz-Canel is expected to succeed Raúl as first secretary as well.


At the congress, which the 60th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Party a resolution “reaffirming the leading role of the Communist Party of Cuba” and another to “recognize and diversify different forms of property and management.” 


BRAZIL: The Supreme Court voted Wednesday 10-1 to approve into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Brazil’s death count surpassed 362,000 this week, making it the second-highest in the world. On Tuesday, the country’s daily death count peaked at over . Reports also emerged this week that a further threatens Brazil’s already overwhelmed health system. Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro has the situation and refused to impose restrictions like lockdowns to decrease the virus’ spread. As a result, his approval rates have plummeted. Also last week, former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva announced that he is in 2022, if his candidacy is necessary to keep Bolsonaro from winning another term. 

CHILE: Chile announced Wednesday that it has vaccinated of the population, making it one of the countries with the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world. Over 7.5 million people have received their first dose, and 5.2 million have received both doses, out of a total population of about 19 million. Despite the success of its vaccination campaign, the country has been experiencing a worrying surge in COVID-19 cases recently, with and most of the population back in lockdown. Critics say that the surge is related to premature optimism over the early success of the vaccine campaign, which pushed the country . In December, the government relaxed travel restrictions and began allowing local and international tourism in time for the southern hemisphere summer holidays, even though most people had not yet been vaccinated. Health experts also believe that the variant of the coronavirus first detected in Brazil last November has contributed to the rise in cases. 


BOLIVIA/VENEZUELA: Venezuela and Bolivia announced plans this week to acquire doses of the Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine produced by the Cuban government. The Bolivian government with Cuba to buy the jab, which is in phase 3 trials and will be ready this summer. Bolivia hopes to vaccinate its entire population by September, and is in discussion with multiple pharmaceutical companies around the world about purchasing doses. In Venezuela, a state laboratory in Caracas has been approved to Cuba’s Abdala COVID-19 vaccine, which is still in phase 2 trials. Cuban and Venezuelan officials inspected the plant together, but did not specify when production would begin or speculate about monthly production rates. 


VENEZUELA: The Venezuelan army announced this week that they have captured several members of the along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. The alleged cartel members were participating in the armed conflict that has ravaged the border between the countries over the last three weeks. The violence has Venezuelans, who were forced to seek refuge across the border in Colombia. Previously, Venezuela had avoided naming the armed groups involved in the conflict, which are presumed to include dissident members of the FARC who did not lay down their arms after the 2016 peace agreement. 


HAITI: President Jovenel Moïse announced that he had accepted last week, and that he had nominated to lead the government on an interim basis. In a, Moïse said that the reshuffling will allow the country “to address the growing problem of insecurity.” Jouthe had served as prime minister since March 2020. Claude Joseph is the sixth person to serve in the role under President Moïse.


HONDURAS: Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro and her husband former President Manuel Zelaya are of opposition candidates for the presidential election in November. Castro, who will represent the LIBRE party, hopes to bring together candidates Yani Rosental, of the Liberal Party, and Salvador Nasralla, of the opposition Salvador Honduras Party, to create a united front against Nasry “Tito” Asfura, of the ruling Nationalist Party. The candidates will meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of joining up.

Nasralla, who ran for president in 2017 in an election marred by fraud accusations, last week about the attempt to form a coalition, predicting that it will fail because Zelaya is a “poor interlocutor.”  

Meanwhile, three candidates who lost primary elections for opposition parties plan to form an alliance called “Los Honestos.”

HONDURAS/GUATEMALA/MEXICO: The United States government announced last week that it had with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico for military and police action against migration. Under the agreements, the countries will station thousands more soldiers and police on their borders to stop illegal crossings. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey, and make crossing the borders more more difficult.”


MEXICO/UNITED STATES: The United States Treasury included Mexico in a “monitoring list” of for possible currency manipulation in a report released on Friday. The noted that Mexico meets two of the three criteria to be declared a currency manipulator: a material account surplus of at least 2% of GDP, and a bilateral trade surplus with the United States of at least $20 billion. To be declared a currency manipulator, Mexico would also need to be shown to have made net purchases of foreign currency totaling at least 2% of GDP. Mexico is the only Latin American country.

MEXICO/UNITED STATES: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will propose to U.S. President Joe Biden that be extended to Central America as part of an aid package aimed at reducing emigration from the region when the two presidents meet on Thursday.

The Sembrando Vida program, which subsidizes small-scale agriculture and the planting of fruit and timber trees, was set up by López Obrador as a program, and has over 420,000 beneficiaries. In a video ahead of his meeting with Biden, López Obrador said that such a program could employ as many as 1.3 million people in Central America and southern Mexico. He also said that he will suggest to Biden that be given temporary work visas to the United States and a path to citizenship.

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