The desert cities – V

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

They are robbing us all

More than a million deaths from Covid-19 worldwide last week: 210 in the United States, 142 in Brazil, 95 in India. It is in India where the disease spreads most rapidly. They already exceed 6 million cases. The death toll could double before a vaccine becomes available, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

New foci of the disease appear all over the world. In France, the Netherlands, England, Spain and Australia, new daily cases exceed previous numbers, new closures are recommended, the population is warned of renewed risks, as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere.

In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks on television, asking the population to respect protective measures to avoid a return to the worst days of the pandemic. In Spain, the conservative administration of the capital refuses the control measures that the socialist government requests. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte sounds the alarm after a second day with record cases. The same in England, where, with 40 daily deaths, the authorities warn the population, who, meanwhile, took to the streets on Saturday to protest against the confinement measures.

Europe has a lot to do to stabilize the situation and control transmission; we're seeing a worrying rise in the disease, said Mike Ryan, an emergency specialist at the WHO. Maria Van Kerkhove, a specialist in Covid-19, also from the WHO, recalled that the flu period has not yet started in Europe, which indicates that things might not be going in the right direction.

Lack of money, surplus of money

Economies, paralyzed by protective measures against the pandemic, are sinking. For the first time, all regions of the world are in recession, the IMF said in June: fall 9,4% in Latin America and the Caribbean; 8% in the United States; 10,2% in the euro zone. OECD data for the second quarter of the year show an extraordinary decline in India's economy, of 25,2%; 11,4% in the European Union; 9,1% in the United States, against a surprising growth of 11,5% in China, the only country with a positive rate.

Amid the turmoil caused by the pandemic, the High Level Group on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI), created by the UN last March, reported: illicit money laundering in the world rose to 1,37 trillion euros, equivalent to 2,7% of world wealth. 10% of world GDP is deposited in cross-border financial assets. Private fortunes hidden in tax havens amount to six trillion euros. Far from attenuating, with the outbreak of the coronavirus, tax evasion seems to have increased, said Dalia Grybauskaité, co-president of FACTI, in the presentation of the report. “Many banks actively collaborate in robbing the poorest,” she added. Losses to governments from tax evasion amount to €430 billion annually. It is clear that the coronavirus is not the cause of the crisis.

a dangerous direction

September is the month of the UN General Assembly, which this year took place from the 22nd to the 29th. It is customary for thousands of top officials and some of the world's most important political leaders to meet in New York. This year it was not like that, as the 75th Assembly took place virtually. “We are moving in a very dangerous direction”, said the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, when inaugurating it last Wednesday. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the world must "do everything possible to avoid a new Cold War", he added, referring to the growing rivalry between China and the United States. Then came the speeches by country. The first, as is tradition, corresponds to Brazil, in recognition of the role of its chancellor, Osvaldo Aranha, first to speak at the special session of the General Assembly in 1947, and later president of the II General Assembly and of the Security Council.

Bolsonaro opened the session in the midst of expectations about Brazil's environmental policy and with eyes turned to the fires that consume vast regions in two of its main biomes: the Amazon and the Pantanal of Mato Grosso. In his opinion, Brazil is the victim of one of the most brutal disinformation campaigns, which attribute the fires to the great interests of agribusiness. For Bolsonaro, agribusiness continues to be a flourishing sector, which respects “the best environmental legislation on the planet”. According to the agent, most of the fires are not criminal in origin, but are the result of the activities of indigenous peoples and small farmers. A statement that, according to several sources, including a note from the prestigious Brazilian Press Association (ABI), contradicts the truth and caused a scandal.

Bolsonaro, who began his speech claiming the truth as a requirement for the world to face its challenges, blamed sectors of the press for having provoked panic in the population in relation to Covid-19, urging them to stay at home, which “almost caused social chaos in the country”. He claimed the measures adopted by his government to face the crisis, including emergency aid of almost a thousand dollars (about 5.600 reais), when, in fact, this aid was only three installments of 600 reais. And he assured that there was no lack of means to care for Covid-19 patients in hospitals, something that also seems to contradict the results of the pandemic in the country. Aligned with US policy against Venezuela and the Middle East, Bolsonaro concluded by assuring that Brazil “is a Christian and conservative country and has its basis in the family”.

cold war climate

Then Trump spoke, and his speech did not appear to be heading in the direction suggested by the general secretary. Like Bolsonaro, he defended his policy to face Covid-19, despite his country being the most affected by the pandemic, with more than 200 deaths, almost 7,5 million cases and a forecast that its GDP will fall by 9,1 % this year. From the beginning, Trump set a tone of confrontation with China, calling Sars-coV-2 a “Chinese virus”, touching a particularly sensitive point, which could affect world efforts to unite to face the pandemic. As we pursue our bright future, continued Trump, “we must hold accountable the nation that spread this plague across the world: China”, accusing the WHO – from which it withdrew – of being “virtually controlled by China”.

Trump, who also withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, also attacked China's environmental practices and urged the UN to "focus on the world's real problems" if it wants to remain an effective organization. He, who also withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty (INF Treaty) – signed in December 1987 by then-president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev –, defended a new arms race, in which the United States spent 2,5 trillions of dollars in the last four years, guaranteeing that today he has weapons at a more advanced level than ever before, and concluded his intervention with a reference to Latin America, justifying his political interventions against the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

profound changes

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke in a different tone. "We have no intention of fighting a war neither cold nor hot with any country." China, as the world's largest developing country, is committed to peaceful, open development, we seek neither hegemony nor expansion, he said. deepest ever experienced in a century; they must be faced with a vision of a shared future. He further refused attempts to build blocks to keep others out; we must respect the development model that each country chooses, he said. Xi also rejected attempts to reverse the process of economic globalization, guaranteeing that countries will not be able to be isolated, nor cut the ties of this globalization. In a more belligerent tone, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, accused Trump of spreading a “political virus” in the General Assembly, assuring that, if anyone should be held responsible for the pandemic, it is the United States, “for having lost so many lives with your irresponsible attitude.”

On September 11, a few days before the opening of the General Assembly, China and Russia issued, in Moscow, a joint declaration by their foreign ministers in which they reiterate “their firm commitment to the principles of multilateralism” and vehemently reject the unilateral actions and protectionism, intimidation policies against other states, sanctions not supported by international law or the extraterritorial application of national laws, in clear allusion to the policies of the Trump administration.

The 12-point statement was considered “unprecedented and tremendous” by former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, in statements published by the magazine Tutameia last September 24th. It is a solid alliance, which will have great strength on the international scene, he said, with a huge population, a large territory, with great natural resources and great military power. An alliance based on national interests, not ideological similarities. China faces challenges in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, recalled Amorim, while also pointing out that Russia sees NATO expanding eastwards, up to its own borders, facing conflicts in Ukraine, western Georgia and, now, in Belarus (whose government the former Brazilian chancellor does not necessarily support. It is not good that the president has governed for 20 years, he said).

old stories

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his address to the General Assembly, expressed his concern about the withdrawal of the United States from the disarmament agreements. In addition to the pandemic, Putin said, the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START III), which expires in February 2021, must be quickly resolved, an issue that he is negotiating with the Americans. He also asked for a binding agreement among the main powers to ban the use of weapons in space and highlighted that his country has not received a response from the United States and its allies to the proposal to limit the use of short- and medium-range missiles in Europe and other parts of the world.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, gave a long interview to the Russian news agency Sputnik last week. Lavrov said Russia will work "with any government that is elected in any country, including the United States." But let's discuss issues that interest Americans only on the basis of equality. It is useless to talk to us in the language of ultimatums. “If anyone doesn't understand, they are useless politicians,” he added. There are many alarming trends, Lavrov said, such as the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty and the intention to deploy missiles not only in Asia but also across Europe, systems that have already been implemented in Romania and are being deployed in Poland. It is sad – he added – that, in order to gain points in the presidential race, “illegal sanctions are introduced against those who say anything that contradicts the general line of the representatives of the United States”.

It is a question of an instinct for sanctions that was formulated to a large extent in the current administration, but it is not a new story, Obama also actively resorted to these sanctions. 2016, Obama "introduced unprecedented sanctions, including the seizure of Russian real estate in the United States, the expulsion of dozens of our diplomats and their families, and many other things." “Unfortunately, this is contaminating even the European continent. The European Union resorts to the sanctions stick more and more often”.

Russia is especially concerned about a tendency to revise the history of the Second World War, proposed by conservative organizations and parties in Europe, equating the role of the then Soviet Union with that of the Nazis as the cause of World War II. Behind these initiatives are the Baltic countries and other nations such as Poland. It is a resolution On the importance of preserving historical memory for the future of Europe approved by the European Parliament on September 19, 2019, in which the USSR – together with Nazi Germany – is explicitly accused of triggering the Second World War.

On the subject, Lavrov said in his interview, “there is, frankly, a historical aggression aimed at revising the modern foundations of international law that were established after the Second World War in the form of the United Nations and the principles of its Charter” . We are offended – he added – “when they directly say that the Soviet Union is more guilty of having unleashed the Second World War than Nazi Germany. At the same time, they try to make us forget how it all started in 1938, when Western countries, especially France and the United Kingdom, “carried out a policy of appeasement with Hitler”.

Putin published a long article about this situation last June, when the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the founding of the UN were celebrated. It is our responsibility to do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of these terrible tragedies, he said, citing careful research into hitherto classified Soviet archives, including references to the Munich Agreement between Nazi Germany, England and France, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of non-aggression signed between the USSR and Germany and the secret agreements added to this pact by Stalin. In addition to the threat to the fundamental principles of the world order, there is also a moral side to this matter, Putin said. The mockery of memory constitutes a baseness “when all the participants of the anti-Hitler coalition, except the USSR, appear in the declarations of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War”, he assured.

Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

 

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