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Hi there,

Today we've got a carousel of Peruvian presidents, a busted European budget deal, an Armenian government on the brink, and a million-dollar pigeon that's worth every penny.

-Alex Kliment

0ecf230c-0027-431b-80f5-b93743ddb05e.png

Hi there,

Today we've got a carousel of Peruvian presidents, a busted European budget deal, an Armenian government on the brink, and a million-dollar pigeon that's worth every penny.

-Alex Kliment

 

You may be worried about political uncertainty where you live, but spare a thought for Peru. The country has had three different presidents in the past ten days, and none of them was elected by the Peruvian people. Recent days have seen impeachment, mass protests, deadly crackdowns, and even a 24-hour period when no one was running the country.

What's going on in this Andean country of 32 million people, which until recently was considered an economic miracle?


The current crisis began early last week, when Congress voted to remove President Martín Vizcarra, following allegations that he had taken bribes years ago as a regional governor. Vizcarra had been in power only since 2018, when he took over following the ouster of his predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was sacked amid a vote-buying scandal.

Vizcarra, an understated anti-corruption crusader, was popular with the Peruvian public, but not with a fragmented Congress wary of his efforts to crack down on graft and limit their power. For context, more than half of Peru's congress members are currently under investigation for crimes ranging from money laundering to homicide (source in Spanish).

The vote to remove Vizcarra and replace him with the President of Congress Manuel Merino touched off mass protests over what looked to many Peruvians like a congressional coup. When police killed several demonstrators, Merino and his cabinet resigned last Sunday, leaving no one in charge until Monday evening, when lawmakers were able to agree that Congressman Francisco Sagasti — a 76-year old centrist technocrat with a post at the World Bank on his resume — should take the helm.

It now falls to Sagasti to guide the country until presidential elections, which are scheduled for April 2021. The fact that he was one of the few congressmen to vote against impeaching the popular Vizcarra will probably help to calm the streets for now, but the challenges are immense.

First, COVID-19 has ravaged the country. Despite some success with early lockdowns, the situation quickly spiraled, leaving Peru with the third highest COVID death rate per 100,000 people in the world, trailing only far smaller countries like Belgium and San Marino.

Second, the country's economy, once a fast-growing darling of international investors, is facing its worst crisis in decades. GDP is set to contract nearly 14 percent this year, one of the largest drops of any large economy in the world, according to the IMF.

Third, there is the perennial problem of the country's dysfunctional politics, which one presidential election won't solve. Since emerging from dictatorship in 2000, Peru has yet to produce stable political parties with identifiable ideological or policy agendas. At each election, Peruvian voters face a kaleidoscopically shifting list of parties and alliances, which politicians use mainly as personal vehicles to power. As NYU scholar Patricio Navia recently pointed out, in every presidential vote since 2001, the winner came from a party that either didn't exist or was virtually unknown four years earlier. The result is a fragmented system that offers voters no clear path toward change.

No one knows what will come next. On the one hand, Peruvians fed up with the political elite seem to want a fresh face: at the moment, the leading candidate for President is a former footballer with limited political experience. On the other, given the dysfunction, how much progress can a president of any party — insider or outsider — really make?


 

 
 
 

On Sunday, 15 Asia-Pacific countries inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, considered the biggest regional trade agreement ever signed. The RCEP includes China, which was left out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another mega regional trade deal pushed by the Obama administration in the US —until President Trump walked out of it on his first day in office in 2017. While the RCEP is a much wider agreement, covering more countries and around 2.2 billion consumers, it lacks the depth of the TPP, which carried strong protections for labor, the environment, and intellectual property. With the US, it would also have accounted for a larger share of global GDP than today's RCEP. Here we compare the RCEP to the current TPP, and to what the TPP would look like if the US had stayed in it.


 

 
 
 

Two global issues will help shape people's memories of this time in history – Covid-19 and the increased use of the internet by malign actors to disrupt society. It's disturbing that these challenges have now merged as cyberattacks are being used to disrupt health care organizations fighting the pandemic. Microsoft thinks these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society. Last week, the company shared more about the attacks it has seen most recently and is urging governments to act. To read more about the attacks on health care detected by Microsoft, visit Microsoft On The Issues.


 

 
 
 

In this week's Quick Take, Ian Bremmer says that while recent news about a COVID-19 vaccine is promising, the next few weeks are going to be rough in the United States as the outbreak worsens. Bremmer notes that while European countries have started to flatten the curve amid a second wave of infection, "in the United States, we're not there yet." Watch the clip here.


 

 
 
 

EU budget in peril: The European Union now faces an unexpected budget crisis after Hungary and Poland vetoed the bloc's 1.8 trillion euro ($2.14 trillion) spending proposal that will help steer the bloc's pandemic recovery, and fund the Union through 2027. Budapest and Warsaw balked after the EU included a provision that made disbursement of funds contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms — including on issues like judicial independence and human rights — which both countries vehemently oppose. The twin veto came as a surprise for many in Brussels, which had recently compromised on this issue by agreeing to only cut funding if the rule-of-law threat directly affects how EU money is spent, and if a simple majority of member states approve. Those terms were seen as narrow enough for Budapest and Warsaw to accept, but the EU's two "illiberal" states are playing hardball. We're watching to see how long Hungary and Poland — which often flout EU democratic norms — are willing to hold the EU budget hostage, or if the bloc will cave to their demands in order to release 750 billion euros in coronavirus relief funds that other member states are desperate to get their hands on.


Bangladesh launches all-female police unit: The scourge of violence against women in Bangladesh came to a head last month, when thousands of protesters flocked to the streets demanding change, prompting the government to implement the death penalty for rape convictions. For years, Bangladesh's government stood accused of facilitating a culture of impunity around gender-based violence (1,350 women were raped in the first 10 months of this year alone, likely a gross undercount because many sex crimes are not reported). In the wake of mounting public pressure, there are now some promising signs that the government is taking gender-based violence more seriously. This week, the first all-female police unit was launched to fight online abuse against women, who are disproportionately victims of digital crimes like revenge porn, sexual blackmail, and social media hacking. Indeed, Bangladesh has seen a massive increase in online sexual abuse as internet use has doubled over the past five years. Cause for optimism to be sure, but weeding out a web of legal and cultural norms that favor men remains extremely difficult.

Armenian government in hot water: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is facing mounting pressure to resign over the terms of the recent peace deal negotiated with Azerbaijan over the fiercely disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets to demand Pashinyan's ouster after Armenia was widely perceived to have gotten the short end of the stick in the truce (the Azeris got to keep land won during the six-week war, while the Armenians agreed to withdraw from adjacent territory). Pashinyan has accepted responsibility for the loss of territory and Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan has stepped down, but many Armenians remain enraged at the PM's seeming willingness to surrender territory they see as theirs in the wake of a bloody war that's claimed over 2,300 Armenian lives. After weeks of conflict with the Azeris, the internal temperature inside Armenia is rising: just days ago, the security services claimed to have aborted a plot to assassinate Pashinyan, who rose to power just two years ago in the wake of a non-violent popular uprising against the old elite. Can he survive this crisis?

 

 
 
 

1.9 million: After a competitive bidding war between two Chinese parties, a pigeon racing bird sold at a Belgian auction for a whopping $1.9 million, outpacing the previous sale record of $1.5 million. "You could compare it to a Picasso painting," one expert said of the novelty bird named New Kim. The pigeon racing sport, which dates back to the 1800s, involves the birds being released into the wild hundreds of miles from home. The first to return home is the winner!


100: The Trump administration has rolled back — or is still in the process of rolling back — at least 100 US environmental climate policies linked to clean air, water pollution, wildlife preservation and toxic chemicals. The New York Times has analyzed data collected by Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, revealing that under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has prioritized the dissolution of Obama-era environmental protection policies.

1,000: At least 1,000 Thai protesters gathered outside the country's parliament in Bangkok as lawmakers were debating proposals to amend seven draft amendments to the constitution, a key demand of the country's dynamic pro-democracy movement. As more protesters flocked there on Tuesday, police fired teargas, sparking the most violent clashes since the youth-led anti-government movement mobilized in the summer.

471: Zimbabwe's government has released a new plan to lower its inflation rate from 471 percent to a single-digit figure. The recovery plan will be driven by investment in the mining and agricultural sectors, as well as an IMF reform program, the government says. But many observers remain skeptical of meaningful progress, because Zimbabwe's government has long been riddled in graft, and the government has often printed money to cover expenses, creating an economic catastrophe.


 

 
 

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, Willis Sparks, and Carlos Santamaria.The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from this homage to Gotham's most famous wingless pigeon.

 

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