Mid-Week Digest 07/07/21

Anti-Bolsonaro protests in Brazil, Ethiopian Dam filling reignites regional tensions and Haitian President assassinated

 

Brazil: Protesters demand resignation of President Bolsonaro over COVID vaccine scandal

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest President Jair Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 response as federal prosecutors began their investigation into suspected bribery during his government’s acquisition of COVID vaccines. Bolsonaro has come under fire in recent days over alleged irregularities in Brazil’s purchase of 20 million doses of the Indian-made Covaxin, which has yet to complete clinical trials or receive regulatory approval. Purchased for nearly USD 316M, a senate commission flagged the deal under suspicion of corruption, leading to the subsequent approval of an investigation by a Supreme Court justice. The allegations stem from a Health Ministry employee and his brother (a congressman), who testified that they had privately warned Bolsonaro of their concerns over the deal and that the president took no action to address them. Bolsonaro vehemently denies these allegations, claiming attempts to blame him personally are “nonsense.” Protests over Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic were already taking place on and off throughout June, and the recent revelations have sparked more widespread unrest. Tens of thousands of protesters reportedly took to the streets across the country demanding Bolsonaro’s removal, as lawmakers from several parties have begun drafting articles of impeachment. Though protests have been fairly peaceful thus far, further unrest is extremely likely in the near term – Bolsonaro has doubled down on his intentions to remain in office, claiming that the accusations against him have been fabricated to bring about his impeachment. Brazil has historically held presidents accountable for corrupt behavior suggesting impeachment of Bolsonaro is possible. Two out of three of Bolsonaro’s predecessors, Luiz Inacio Lula and Dilma Rousseff, were also faced with allegations of corruption while in power – Lula was imprisoned following his presidency, while Rousseff was impeached by Congress in 2016. An increase in political tensions and violent civil unrest is likely as the investigation gets underway.


Ethiopia: Government begins to fill GERD dam, renewing tensions with Sudan and Egypt

Ethiopia has begun filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for the second year reigniting longstanding tensions with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan over water sharing in the region. In a note to Egyptian officials, Ethiopia stated that it would once again fill the dam, as it first did in 2020, with waters from the Blue Nile, the main Nile tributary. The Ethiopians claim filling the dam is their right to provide power to their population and increase their economic output. Egypt has rejected this claim, stating that the dam poses an existential threat to its water supply; Egypt relies on the Nile for an estimated 90% of its drinking and irrigation water. Sudan has also voiced their objection to the filling as they believe the GERD has the potential to negatively impact their dams while also posing a similar threat to their drinking water. The Sudanese allege that the first filling of the dam in 2020 led to water shortages across the country, though Ethiopia denies this assertion. Both Egypt and Sudan believe that a binding agreement is needed to effectively manage water sharing between the nations, which in turn would deter other Nile Basin countries from taking up similar projects without receiving downstream approval. With differing opinions on the dam’s construction, recurring impasses have plagued talks between the nations prompting Egypt and Sudan to request assistance from the UN Security Council (UNSC) to break the stalemate. Though the UN lacks the authority to mandate binding resolutions, the body can bring all sides to the table to reopen discussions. However, Ethiopia has voiced its opposition to outside involvement, requesting the matter be referred to the African Union instead, and has accused Tunisia—a UNSC member—and the Arab League of meddling in their affairs. Without an official agreement and a lack of cooperation moving forward, tensions have the potential to continue growing, leading to further escalation. Though unconfirmed and still unlikely at this point, some open-source intelligence suggests that Egypt has begun to contemplate a military solution to the situation should no diplomatic alternative prove viable as a means of appeasing their demands.


Haiti: Assassination of President Jovenel Moïse prompts fears of power vacuum

At around 0100 on Wednesday, a group of unidentified individuals assassinated Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse at his residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince – Moïse’s wife was shot and injured in the incident; her health condition had not been disclosed as of Wednesday afternoon. Authorities have declared a “state of siege” in the country, closing the international airport – Dominican officials have also closed the shared land border. Moïse’s killing comes amid a worsening political and economic crisis in the country, and the political vacuum left by his assassination could result in a further increase in criminal activity, civil unrest, and mob violence. The perpetrators’ identities currently remain unknown, though government officials assert that the assailants communicated in Spanish and English and were foreign mercenaries. The interim prime minister—Claude Joseph—has assumed Moïse’s responsibilities and assured the public that security forces are in control of the country, though the extent of his personal influence moving forward remains unclear. While all the details of the declared “state of siege” have not been released, a government-published statement outlined security regulations for the next 15 days. Members of the security forces have been authorized to perform house searches, regulate traffic, and take other security measures that could lead to capturing those responsible for the assassination. Although anti-government protests have occurred repeatedly since Moïse took office in 2017, his refusal to step down following the end of his five-year term in February contributed to a significant rise in civil unrest in recent months. Despite public discontent, Moïse was seeking to rewrite the country’s constitution and introduce provisions that would guarantee the president’s immunity while in office. Political instability, coupled with rising inflation and food and fuel scarcity, has fueled a surge in gang violence. According to media reports, no immediate spike in crime has been recorded in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday morning, but residents reported sporadic gunfire, interruptions in public transportation, and a shortage of food and water. Looting was reported in one area of the capital. Asset attacks and robberies targeting commercial establishments and an increase in civil disorder are possible in the short to medium term as the political vacuum causes uncertainty and security forces are distracted with the ongoing investigation.