Jun 29, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. Hope you had a lovely weekend.

  • We've got a 1,458-word (5-minute) trip this evening, taking off from Mexico and landing in Langley, Virginia. New readers can subscribe here.
  • A personal note: Congratulations to my incredible sister and brother-in-law on the birth this morning of their daughter, Ruby. I'm now a proud uncle, and always a proud brother.
1 big thing: Mexico fights its COVID crisis on the cheap

Funeral singers in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl. Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty

While the massive coronavirus outbreaks in Brazil and the United States have garnered global attention in recent weeks, the per capita death rate has actually been higher in the hemisphere’s third giant: Mexico.

Why it matters: The three populist-led countries have combined for roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths recorded worldwide over the past two weeks. Worse still, Mexico’s outbreak has yet to peak, according to Johns Hopkins University.

  • Mexico has one of the highest fatality rates in the world — over the last 24 hours, for example, Mexico recorded 10% as many cases as the U.S. but more deaths — likely because few people are tested before they're seriously ill.
  • The health care system has struggled to cope, while the messaging from the government has been inconsistent.
  • As recently as late March, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was encouraging Mexicans to continue to hug, kiss and gather in groups.
  • The leftist leader has argued that the poor can't afford to quarantine and stressed that, virus or no virus, life must go on.

Where things stand: The outlook for the newly reopening economy is bleak, due to the conjoined crashes in oil prices, remittances and tourism.

  • The IMF projects a 10.5% contraction this year, while the UN says 17 million Mexicans could be living in extreme poverty by year’s end, up from 11 million now.

López Obrador has made far more bullish projections, and stunned observers by deciding against any major stimulus spending beyond micro-loans to small businesses.

  • Roberta Jacobson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico until 2018, tells Axios that his thinking seems to be shaped by Mexico’s history of debt crises and inflation.
  • But that lack of assistance will be keenly felt, particularly as foreign investment had already "all but dried up" before the pandemic due in part to López Obrador's hostility toward big business.
  • The president's decision-making — including doubling down on infrastructure megaprojects and the indebted state oil company — "seems to be really out of step with the rest of the world,” Jacobson says.

Flashback: López Obrador's maverick streak helped him sweep to a landslide election victory two years ago this week.

  • His approval ratings have fallen from the stratosphere (72% this time last year) but remain in the high 50s.
  • Still, he’s under pressure from multiple directions. Mexico’s security challenges were laid bare again on Friday when Mexico City’s police chief was shot in an apparent assassination attempt.
  • Mexico's politics are also growing "more polarized and nastier," Jacobson says, just as they are in the U.S.

What to watch: López Obrador can perhaps commiserate on that fact next month with President Trump, whom he's planning to visit in the White House to mark the new North American trade deal.

  • That announcement was yet another surprise from López Obrador, who has yet to leave Mexico as president. He defended it today, declaring, “I am not a sellout."
  • It's unclear how he'll make his way to Washington. After taking office, he put the presidential plane up for sale.
2. Tracking the path of the pandemic

Sunday saw the world hit two grim global coronavirus milestones — 10 million confirmed cases and 500,000 deaths.

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Why it matters: The world may now be past peak lockdown — with economies reopening from Spain to South Africa — but it has not seen the worst of the virus. More than one in five cases recorded during the entirety of the pandemic came in the last two weeks alone.

The big picture: As the virus has reached every country on Earth, the eye of the storm has shifted from China to Europe to the developing world. Latin America is now the global epicenter, with South Asia not far behind and sub-Saharan Africa bracing for impact.

Where it stands: When the pandemic first struck pockets of wealthy countries — from northern Italy to New York City — it accelerated exponentially but fell nearly as rapidly in the weeks after lockdowns were imposed.

  • That trajectory has not held across the U.S., and it certainly has not held in poorer countries for which lockdowns had to be weighed against hunger and extreme poverty.

Go deeper

3. State of the outbreak: Good news, bad news
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

82 deaths were recorded in total over the last 24 hours in France (18), Germany (4), Italy (22), Spain (2) and the U.K. (36), per the WHO.

  • Compare that to two months prior (April 29), when those five countries — home to Europe’s largest overall outbreaks, excluding Russia’s — combined for 2,168 deaths.
  • Most European countries have thus far been able to bend the curve and avoid large secondary outbreaks while reopening parts of the economy.

The bad news: "Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today.

  • 82% more people worldwide could require food aid before the end of the year than did before the pandemic, David Beasley, the World Food Program’s executive director, revealed today.
  • The rise is sharpest in Latin America, where 3x as many people could be hungry by year's end.
4. Africa: A victory for democracy in Malawi

Counting votes in Lilongwe. Photo: Amos Gumulira/AFP via Getty

It was not easy to force Malawi's president, Peter Mutharika, from power after a rigged election last year.

How it happened: It took the anger of protesters, the restraint of the army — which protected them rather than cracking down — and the bravery of judges who threw out the result despite attempts to intimidate them. It also took a united opposition. Finally, last week, it took a new election.

The latest: Malawi's electoral commission over the weekend declared Lazarus Chakwera, an opposition leader and former preacher, the runaway winner.

Why it matters: This is a surprising victory for democracy in the southern African country, and it could have ended very differently. Martha Chizuma, who leads Malawi's Human Rights Commission, hopes it will permanently shift Malawi's political trajectory:

"People have seen how politics affects their daily lives. For the past 13 months or so, Malawi’s democracy has matured, probably ten times over. The people of Malawi are quite awake now. I don’t think any Malawian will ever take any rubbish again."
— Martha Chizuma, writing in The Continent

What to watch: The new government faces major challenges, and the surge of optimism may not last. But with democracy under strain around the world, Malawi has bucked the trend.

5. China: Accusations of genocide in Xinjiang

Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government has been accused of "demographic genocide" by forcing birth control and sterilizations on minority populations, especially the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang region.

Why it matters: A policy of forced sterilization and abortion imposed on minority populations would bring China's policies closer to the textbook definition of genocide, notes Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who has reported extensively on China's abuses in Xinjiang.

The big picture: China regularly conducts pregnancy checks, forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion in Xinjiang, AP reports in a non-bylined global investigation.

Key allegations, rounded up by Axios' Fadel Allassan:

  • Officials reportedly use the threat of detention to force minorities to comply with the population control measures, while some of the country's Han majority are urged to have more children.
  • Police officers raid homes for hidden children, and parents who are found to have three or more children are taken to detention camps unless they can pay large fines, according to AP.
  • Inside the detention camps, IUDs are forced on some women, along with what appear to be pregnancy prevention shots, former detainees told AP.

The bottom line: China denies the AP report as "fake news," but read the numbers yourself:

  • About 60% more IUDs were inserted in Xinjiang in 2018 vs. 2014, according to new research by China scholar Adrian Zenz.
  • In the rest of China, the use of IUDs dropped significantly.
  • Birth rates fell by 24% last year alone in Xinjiang, compared to 4.2% nationwide.
6. What I'm reading: Spies wanted

Screengrab via YouTube

The CIA is trying to change its image — starting with a new ad campaign that features a young, diverse cast of officers in orientation and later in the field.

Why it matters: The agency is competing for talent with tech giants and trying to attract a more diverse range of aspiring spies to a career often portrayed (not inaccurately) as the domain of white men, the FT reports.

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst, writes in Foreign Policy that the ad might surprise those who assume "the CIA’s recruitment process is more targeted, more discrete" — in line with "the Hollywood depiction of a grizzled recruiter approaching a promising student on a college campus or in a dark bar."

  • While that's no longer the case, the ad is still not particularly realistic, Price writes, and not just because it presents "a level of diversity, especially in terms of race, that today’s CIA could only dream of."
  • The intimate "welcome to the CIA" moment was out of step with Price's orientation experience of being "herded into" lecture halls and "talked at for weeks about issues both sublime and mundane."
  • Rising spies may encounter the sorts of "thrills" portrayed in the ad, he notes, but they'll also face a whole lot more bureaucracy.
7. Stories we're watching

Back for a trim, in Dublin. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

  1. India bans TikTok
  2. Global default spike
  3. Russian bounties report: Pelosi wants briefing, Biden hits Trump
  4. Israeli annexations: Gantz wants patience, Netanyahu rallies evangelicals
  5. China's carbon emissions surge above pre-pandemic levels
  6. Judge orders ICE to release children amid pandemic
  7. Princeton drops Woodrow Wilson's name


"Wilson went on to become governor of New Jersey, president of the United States and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. For decades, the university has celebrated Wilson’s record of public service and his achievements. Wilson was also a racist."
— Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber on removing Woodrow Wilson's name from the School of Public and International Affairs
Dave Lawler

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