Peru has faced a rough couple of months, after following a political crisis starting with President Martin Vizcarra’s impeachment in November. The protestors saw Vizcarra’s impeachment as politically motivated, carried out to halt the anti-graft initiatives he sought to implement. The protests have also been inflamed by the alleged police brutality that led to the deaths of 2 demonstrators. Following Vizcarra’s impeachment on 9th November, Speaker of Congress Manuel Merino assumed the presidency. Nevertheless, Merino announced his resignation on 15th November, less than 5 days since taking office, following the death of 2 students amid a police crackdown on the continued protests against Vizcarra’s impeachment; pressure on Merino to resign increased after 13 of his Cabinet’s 18 ministers resigned in protest against these deaths and the police response to the demonstrations. Responding to Merino’s resignation, Peru’s Congress returned to deliberations, ultimately voting 97-26 in favour of electing Francisco Sagasti of Partido Morado as interim President the following day.
However, the political crisis is not the only matrix to agitate Peruvians. In fact, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a role in bringing about the recent unrest in Peru. The country has had more coronavirus deaths per million people than other countries in the region like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia. The pandemic and lockdown measures against it have led to a significant contraction in the country’s economy of around 30.2% in the second quarter of this year. Consequently, aside from the corruption allegations against him, Vizcarra’s opponents in Congress also seized upon these statistics as justification for his impeachment. It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in spurring the protests against Congress’ decision.
As a consequence, discontent was perceived by many who decided to protest for similar reasons but in different ways. On January 13, health workers started going on a hunger strike in Lima, as they demanded a better national health budget and access to vaccines. About a dozen medics from the national social security union have been taking part in protests there as the health system struggles to cope with the second wave of Covid-19. The strike would last until Peru’s Labour Minister removes the head of the country’s Health Social Security, Fiorella Molinelli, who oversees government efforts to set up temporary health and isolation centres for Covid-19 patients.
The hunger strike is just one of many protests by Peru’s medics and health workers in recent days, as the second wave of Covid-19 engulfs the population. In fact, dozens marched through the streets of Lima on January 28 protesting against the latest lockdown ordered by the government. Protesters oppose the closure decreed in the capital and other regions of the country because they say it will harm business and livelihoods, many also believe that the virus only attacks vulnerable people.
The capital and several regions have started a strict lockdown from January 28 lasting until February 15, as the government aims to reduce the burden in hospitals that are unable to provide enough space and care for coronavirus patients. It is the second time in ten months that Peru returns to strict confinement rules. The first quarantine lasted 106 days, causing significant economic losses, with the gross domestic product falling 12 points in 2020. The Andean nation of 33 million inhabitants awaits the arrival of a million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to inoculate health personnel. There is no vaccination date for the rest of the population. More than 40,000 have died and more than a million inhabitants have been infected in Peru since the pandemic began.
However, Peru is not the first country to go on a hunger strike with healthcare workers protesting for poor working conditions and citizens tired of endless lockdowns. Protesters around the world have taken to the streets in recent weeks to reject government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, as countries race to vaccinate their most vulnerable groups and stem the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
President Francisco Sagasti, as a response to medic strikes, approved a decree to finance the set-up of more than sixteen temporary isolation centres across the country and to hire additional staff to expand health services. However, this is not enough to appease the discontent of the population as dates for vaccination programme still remains a mystery and as a consequence the government does not seek to ease restrictions, forbidding social interactions whereas possible. The Peruvian protests will be an example for the rest of the world of how situations can be changed until the majority’s voices are heard.
A solution for the Peruvian Covid-19 crisis, in order to avoid more protesting in the near future and stop the spreading of the virus during these manifestations the government must provide clear and consistent messaging around the coronavirus, lockdowns and the vaccines to build trust among residents.
On the other hand, a proper resolution to Peru’s political crisis over the long term is likely to necessitate deep and comprehensive reforms. If Sagasti is able to effectively manage the transitional government it is likely to prove advantageous for Julio Guzmán, who is likely to represent Partido Morado in the 2021 elections. It is also possible that if Vizcarra’s impeachment is found to be illegitimate, he may be able to compete in the next elections; given his popularity, it is likely that he would stand a good chance of victory. Either way, the next President of Peru is likely to be from one of the newer centrist political groupings like Partido Morado or an independent like Vizcarra given the political damage self-inflicted by Peru’s larger parties like Acción Popular and Fuerza Popular in the face of their support for Vizcarra’s impeachment.
CEO Liam Morrissey was interviewed on this topic by Canadian Underwriter. Read the post here.
Please enjoy this podcast episode, Deep Insights #25: Spotlight on Burkina Faso, on which our own Liam Morrissey appeared.
At the time of writing both Thailand and Vietnam have kept COVID 19 under control relative to other countries in the region, however two high-profile outbreaks may be challenging their recent success. Both incidents stem from low-paid migrant workers bypassing local quarantine laws. As the Lunar New year approaches these incidents are likely to be exasperated by large numbers of migrant workers attempting to return home to visit their families.
Vietnam’s COVID success is closely linked to the closing of its borders in March of 2020. Apart from “rescue flights” returning overseas Vietnamese nationals, and limited flights for foreign diplomats and expert workers, the country has strictly controlled who is allowed to arrive in Vietnam. All people entering are subject to strict quarantine rules in either government-controlled facilities or selected hotels. However, as the pandemic continues, and flights are restricted, more and more people are crossing the land borders illegally. Many are low-paid migrant workers either unwilling, or unable, to spend two-weeks in quarantine.
Recent cases have included groups smuggled over the northern border with China and a Vietnamese worker from Myanmar who travelled undetected through Thailand. These cases highlight the porous nature of Vietnam’s land borders and the risk that returning migrant workers pose. Both of the above-mentioned cases have led to COVID infections in the community, and, because of the method of entry, many have been reluctant to seek medical help when they first notice signs of illness (one person was reported to the police by his own mother once he began showing COVID symptoms). On January 1st the Vietnamese government reported there had been 343 illegal entrances attempted in just 3 days from Cambodia and China.
Thailand, in comparison to Vietnam, has been relatively relaxed, allowing tourists and workers to enter the country at various stages in the last year. But a recent outbreak may change that. The outbreak has been traced to a fish market in Samut Sakhon. The market is often used by migrant workers and has been linked to over 1,500 cases at the time of writing. With the cases traced back to three Burmese workers. This has led to an outpouring of anti-migrant sentiment in Thailand, with many workers from Myanmar and Laos facing discrimination.
Lunar New Year begins in the second week of February and millions of Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans will attempt to return home. Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian and Thai New Year’s follow in April. Many of the workers traveling home will not be able to afford two-weeks away from work to quarantine so it is likely that illegal border crossing attempts will increase as people attempt to return home for the holidays.
How authorities in Southeast Asia respond to this threat is likely to determine how the countries fight against COVID 19 progresses in 2021. So far, Southeast Asia, has fared well but the next few months will pose a harsh test. Air borders are obviously much easier to police comprehensively than land borders, and countries like Vietnam and Thailand, who share long borders with less developed neighbours are likely to see both legal and illegal traffic increase in coming months.
On 19 November 2020, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) added an auxiliary warship to its Naval Fleet. The ship was named after the recently assassinated former IRGC Navy Commander, Admiral Abdollah Roudaki. The ships introduction comes at a time where Iran is experiencing tensions with a number of regional players. Improving one’s armed forces is an oftentimes clear indicator of preparing for war. Therefore, would it be right to assume conflict is on the horizon?
The ‘Shahid Roudaki’ will be used as a “marine city,” with the capacity to carry out a wide range of missions such as combat, logistics and reconnaissance, and has the capability of carrying aircraft, drones and missile launchers. The ship also carries an advanced air defence system of the Som Khardad variety, and thus it has both offensive and defensive capabilities. Last month Iran’s Rear Admiral, Hossein Khanzadi emphasised that Iran’s naval power – now strengthened by this warship – will serve maritime security in both the region and the world, and will help to defend the waters and interests of Iran.
But the ship’s launch comes in the wake of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, which first began to arise in April 2018 when the United States stepped up its sanctions against Iran. Tensions reached peak levels when the outgoing US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran nuclear deal). In the same year, Ayatollah Khamenei – who has the final say on all matters of state in Iran – banned direct talks with the United States, invoking previous failed talks between the two nations.
In the following year there were tensions in the Gulf of Oman, when the United States accused Iran of sabotaging four foreign ships (oil tankers and other vessels) in the Strait of Hormuz – a location in the Gulf of Oman that borders Iran). The US saw the incident as an attack on its interests, as most of the ships belonged to two of its allies in the region (Saudi Arabia and UAE). The fallout was the US deploying its warships in the Gulf – so as to stave off any further or future attacks from Iranian forces. Introducing the new ship could be its way of flexing its military might in the face of US aggression, but could also indicate Iran is preparing to go to war with the United States – sooner rather than later.
In early 2020, the United States killed former head of the IRGC, Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike ordered by the President. The Pentagon claims Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers (along with coalition troops), and the wounding of thousands of others. US officials also claimed that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and troops in Iraq and in the region before he was killed. Last month President Trump explored attacking Iranian nuclear facilities but ultimately decided against doing so – with top US military advisors warning him of the potential outbreak of a long-war with Iran. Iran responded to such plans by warning the US that any attacks on Iran would be met by a “crushing” response. Such incidents illustrate the potential of both countries to go to war. If it is true that Iran had been planning attacks on US targets, it is entirely possible that the IRGC Navy could be planning to use the new warship to bring to life such plans.
It is more plausible that the new warship could be used to instead carry out further attacks against US interests in the region. As past precedence shows, Iran has the potential to carry out attacks on vulnerable allies of the United States who operate in the Gulf of Oman or the Persian Gulf. The ship could though be Iran’s attempt to level the playing field – by acquiring a warship that can rival the US’s 5th Fleet in the Gulf. Meanwhile on 27 November the US Navy ordered its USS Nimitz to return to the Persian Gulf – approximately one month after it set off to participate in naval exercises with the Indian Navy. The supercarrier and its strike group were asked to return to provide defensive cover for US troops during the drawdown from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon has said that this move has ensured the US has “sufficient capability” to respond to any threats or to deter any of the US’s enemies from acting against US troops during its drawdown in the region. The US claims such action was not triggered by the recent tensions with Iran as per the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Motivations aside, on 6 December the top US Navy official in the Middle East, Vice Adm. Sam Paparo recently remarked that the US and Iran have reached “an uneasy deterrence,” after months of attacks and sea seizures – suggesting war is not on the horizon.
Shahid Roudaki’s launch also comes at a time of great tension between Iran and Israel. Iranian state authorities have blamed Israel for much – most recently for the assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran at the end of November. Israel has long theorised Iran is developing a covert nuclear programme – which Israel fears would be used against it should Iran be allowed to acquire its own nuclear weapons. Israel along with other international parties believe there is evidence to suggest Fakhrizadeh was at the helm of Iran’s covert nuclear programme. Additionally, Israel has been attacking Iranian targets in Syria for a number of years, over the course of the Syrian Civil War – with the Israel Defense Forces having confirmed they launched over 200 airstrikes against Iranian targets between 2017 and 2018. Since then, Israel has been thwarting attacks within its territory, and has been pre-emptively more Iranian targets inside Syria with its air force. In light of past history, Iran believes Israel is responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s killing, and is seeking revenge for it.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei has already called for “definitive punishment” for the culprits – said to be Israel’s Mossad – and Khamenei’s top advisor has said there will be a “calculated response” to his killing. Other hardliners who blame Israel have called for rocket attacks on Israel’s north-western city of Haifa, presumably via Syria. With the warship now in play, it is quite possible that Iran will use it against Israel. The IRGC Navy has already expressed it is ready to dispatch its vessels into “international waters” – with one of its nearest international bodies of water being the Red Sea (notably Israel’s southern-most point is the Gulf of Aqaba, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea). Time will tell if Iran will veer towards the direction of Israel.
In the meantime Israel has welcomed its own corvette warship to its naval fleet on 2 December – docking in its Mediterranean Haifa Port. The ship is the first of its four German-made ‘Saar 6’ vessels from its “Project Magen”, with the other three scheduled to arrive over the course of the next two years. The Saar 6 vessels are 90-metres in length, and are equipped with missile and rocket defence systems; torpedoes; anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, and upgraded attack helicopter launching pads. This corvette along with the others will be fitted with electronic countermeasures to cope with cruise missiles, and will also contain a maritime version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system – which will aid them in shooting down high-angle rockets coming their way. The ship will also bring 15 new missile boats to Israel’s naval fleet – which already carries out operations in the Gulf.
The IDF’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi has heralded these ships as “a significant leap forward” in ensuring Israel’s military strength – primarily at a naval level. Israel sees such ships as an effective means of securing its natural gas assets in the north – which have persistently been under fire from Iranian-backed Hezbollah operating inside in Lebanon. Israeli security officials though theorise Iran will use Hezbollah by proxy to target such sites – sites Iran would likely perceive to be ‘prestige’ targets, which Iran would risk attacking without provoking escalation of the conflict. The timing of the first ship’s arrival is certainly interesting – especially in the context of Iran’s new warship. Whilst Israel has not said whether it did so in response to Iran’s new Shahid Roudaki warship, it is likely not a coincidence that it has added the ship to its arsenal now. What can be said with the introduction of such ships under this project is that Israel is now better prepared to defend itself in any kind of war it should find itself in within the region.