Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visits the White House, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tests positive for the coronavirus, and a top U.S. general questions Russian bounty intelligence.
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White House Prepares For AMLO Arrival
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visits the White House today for his first foreign trip since winning the presidency in 2018. His arrival in Washington on Tuesday evening was typically on-brand for the leftist leader: He flew in economy class on a commercial airliner (albeit in an exit row).
What’s on the agenda? While the meeting is ostensibly to tout the success of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trade deal that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on July 1, it’s also a chance for U.S. President Donald Trump to trumpet his achievements on immigration to his hardline base. Trump has not gotten Mexico to pay for his border wall, but he has convinced his neighbor to stem the number of asylum seekers crossing the southern border. The number of individuals making the journey has decreased significantly in 2020, in part due to a policy of holding U.S.-bound asylum seekers in Mexico while their claims are being processed.
Common ground on coronavirus. Although it’s unlikely either leader will want to draw attention to it, both presidents will also have a chance to compare notes on their poor responses to the coronavirus pandemic. The United States still leads the world in both the total number of cases and deaths, but Mexico is not far behind: it has the ninth highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide, but has recorded the fifth highest number of deaths. If current trends continue, Mexico will overtake the United Kingdom in total cases by the end of the week.
Es la economía, estúpido. Unlike Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—who spurned an invite to today’s meeting as the U.S. government threatens to place tariffs on Canadian aluminum—this summit is too good an opportunity for López Obrador to turn down. That’s largely because of the importance of the United States to Mexico’s economy—which is predicted to contract by 10.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
As his approval rating gradually falls along with Mexico’s economic performance, López Obrador is aiming to stay on Trump’s good side rather than bet on a loss for the U.S. president in November. “This is about the economy, it’s about jobs, it’s about well-being,” López Obrador said before he departed for Washington.
What We’re Following Today
Bolsonaro tests positive for COVID-19. After months of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive, joining the roughly 1.6 million other Brazilians who have contracted the virus over the course of the country’s outbreak as well as the other 42,517 Brazilians who tested positive yesterday. Bolsonaro has attempted to spin the positive diagnosis as a strength. “I have to admit, I thought I had gotten it earlier, considering my very dynamic activity in the face of the people,” he said on Tuesday.
Trump begins U.S. exit from WHO. U.S. President Donald Trump formally notified the United Nations of his intention to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization, beginning a process that would see a U.S. departure from the body on July 6, 2021. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would reverse the decision on the first day of his presidency, should he beat Trump in November. The withdrawal would lead to changes at the WHO if other funding sources are not found. In 2019, the United States contributed roughly 15 percent of the WHO budget.
Writing in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, global health experts Matthew M. Kavanaugh and Mara Pillinger discuss why leaving the WHO will be “difficult, disruptive, and damaging.”
Top U.S. general speaks on Russian bounty case. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, has poured cold water on recent allegations, first reported by the New York Times, of a program run by Russian intelligence offering cash to Afghan militants for killing U.S. soldiers. McKenzie called the reports “very worrisome,” but said he couldn’t point to any U.S. casualties that could have had a direct link to the alleged program. McKenzie said that Russia’s actions in Afghanistan should, however, still be watched closely. “They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence,” he said.
Suleimani killing “unlawful.” In a new report, Agnès Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded that the January killing of Iranian Commander Qassem Suleimani by a U.S. drone strike was arbitrary and unlawful under international human rights law, citing a lack of any imminent threat posed by Suleimani in the lead up to the assassination. Callamard will present her findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday. The United States left the council in 2018.
OECD unemployment rate to hit record highs. The world’s wealthiest countries will see record unemployment rates as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD forecast a 9.4 percent unemployment rate across the 37 countries that make up the group’s membership, a number that could go as high as 12.6 percent if these countries see a second wave of coronavirus cases. In releasing the data, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría called on wealthy countries to better protect the economically vulnerable across their societies. “In times of crisis, ‘normality’ sounds very appealing. However, our normal was not good enough for the many people with no or precarious jobs, bad working conditions, income insecurity, and limits on their ambitions,” Gurría said.
WHO acknowledges airborne coronavirus threat. The World Health Organization has acknowledged the possibility of coronavirus transmission by airborne means after an open letter from over 200 scientists in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal urged the organization to update its current guidelines. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic at the WHO, said it would publish a scientific brief highlighting the latest knowledge on how the virus is transmitted, and underlined that “a comprehensive package of interventions” was needed to halt the spread of the virus.
Guaidó allies ousted. The Venezuelan Supreme Court has removed the leaders of the Juan Guaidó-aligned Popular Will party ahead of December legislative elections. The move mirrors similar actions taken in recent weeks to remove leaders of two other opposition parties: Democratic Action and First Justice. Leopoldo López, Popular Will’s leader, said his party would not obey “dictatorial impositions.” Guaidó resigned from Popular Will after he assumed the role of acting president in 2019.
Hot takes, served fake. An investigation by the Daily Beast found that a number of conservative-leaning U.S. outlets, including the Washington Examiner, The National Interest, and Newsmax, unwittingly published fake authors posing as Middle East experts. The Daily Beast identified at least 19 fake authors who had published over 90 opinion pieces using bogus personas and author photos generated by artificial intelligence. It’s not known who was behind the network, but the content of the pieces—often critical of Qatar—suggest an involvement from one of the country’s rivals in the region.
Pariah passports. The power of a U.S. passport is not what it used to be, according to an update of the Henley Passport Index—a running measure of the most travel-friendly passports. Japan tops the list, as holders are allowed visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel to 191 countries, the most of any country. The United States currently shares seventh place on the list, but according the index’s authors, temporary travel bans imposed due to coronavirus measures knock the country way down the list to number 28—giving U.S. citizens about the same ease of travel as their Mexican neighbors. The news won’t bother all Americans as only about half of them—146 million—hold a valid passport.
That’s it for today.
Image credit: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
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