Foreign Policy

Has Jair Bolsonaro’s Luck Run Out?

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro awaits his latest coronavirus test results, the United States announces new guidelines threatening foreign university students, and the United Kingdom unveils new sanctions on Russian and Saudi nationals.

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Brazil’s President Awaits Another Coronavirus Test

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will learn today whether his latest coronavirus test—his fourth of the pandemic—will come back positive after he admitted to showing symptoms of the virus, including a low fever and cough.

Bolsonaro has dismissed the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, shrugging off its severity and prioritizing economic activity. Today, Brazil has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the world with over 1.5 million and over 65,000 deaths.

The president now appears to be taking the risk of his own infection seriously: he has cleared his Tuesday schedule and made arrangements for the rest of the week’s meetings to be conducted over video conference. In an appearance outside the presidential palace on Monday, Bolsonaro urged supporters to keep their distance.

If Bolsonaro does test positive, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, has cause for concern. The two were photographed together, without masks, at a Fourth of July celebration at the ambassador’s residence on Saturday.

Mask on, mask off. On Friday, the president exercised a veto on certain aspects of a new law mandating mask wearing in public spaces. Bolsonaro vetoed articles in the law requiring masks in shops and places of worship as well as articles that would have made public authorities responsible for distributing masks to “economically vulnerable people.”

Brazil’s poor vs. the pandemic. In Brazil, it’s those economically vulnerable people who are bearing the brunt of the virus. In June, Ana Ionova reported for Foreign Policy from Rio de Janeiro, where she saw a public health system unable to cope with rising cases, and favela residents being turned away from hospitals.

What We’re Following Today

ICE threatens deportation of foreign students. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced that foreign students studying at U.S. colleges and universities will face deportation if their institution moves to online classes and they remain in the country. The decision gives students less than two months to either transfer to a university offering in-person tuition or leave the country entirely.

Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) whose members include the University of California system along with roughly 200 other universities, called the policy “incredibly unfair, harmful, and unworkable.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose state of Massachusetts is home to some of the country’s top universities, has called on ICE and its parent agency the Department of Homeland Security to drop the policy, calling it “senseless, cruel, and xenophobic.”

U.K. unveils new sanctions. The United Kingdom imposed sanctions on 25 Russians linked to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, along with 20 Saudis connected to the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the first use of new sanctioning powers. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the new laws send a blunt message. “If you’re a kleptocrat or an organized criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country,” Raab said. The Russian embassy in London called the inclusion of some legal and judicial leaders on the list as “outrageous” and said its government has the right to respond.

Record fine in Siberian fuel spill. Norilsk Nickel, the company behind a massive fuel spill in Siberia, has been fined a record $2.1 billion by the Russian government. “The scale of the damage to Arctic waterways is unprecedented. The fine is proportional to it,” Russia’s Ecology Minister Dmitry Kobylkin, said, adding that it was in line with similar fines levied in the wake of environmental disasters such as the Exxon Valdez spill. Norilsk is more than capable of affording the fine, according to the Financial Times, the fine is about one third of its 2019 net profit, and it has almost $5 billion in cash on hand. 

Japan warns of more rain to come. Japanese authorities warned of continuing heavy rains and flooding risks on the southwestern island of Kyushu—which includes the prefectures of Nagasaki, Saga, and Fukuoka—as the death toll from floods in the area has risen to at least 50. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the rains are expected to last in the region until July 9.

Woman makes major presidential ticket in Ghana. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman has been named as former president John Mahama’s running mate in Ghana’s upcoming presidential election, the first time a woman has been on a presidential ticket of a major party in the country. Opoku-Agyeman is a former education minister and university professor. Ghana’s December 7 election pits Mahama against President Nana Akufo-Addo, who beat Mahama in the 2016 presidential contest.

Tech firms hit “pause” over Hong Kong laws. Facebook, along with messaging apps Telegram and Whatsapp (which is owned by Facebook) have all temporarily stopped processing government requests for data on Hong Kong users following the implementation of China’s new national security law in the city. Whatsapp, the first service to announce such a move, said it would pause the handling of government requests “pending further assessment of the impact of the national security law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.” Hong Kongers have traditionally enjoyed an open internet and have been able to access websites otherwise blocked on the Chinese mainland.

Russian authorities have dug a trench around the remote Siberian village of Shuluta, following an outbreak of coronavirus among the residents. Local officials believe the virus was spread during a traditional shaman ritual, despite public gatherings being banned under the region’s coronavirus guidelines. The trench is meant to deter tourists from stumbling upon the village on the way to a nearby national park, while also discouraging residents skeptical of the virus from venturing out. Russian national guards are now standing sentry at the one road leading to the village not disrupted by the trench, and only ambulances and food deliveries are allowed in.

That’s it for today. 

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Image credit: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

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