Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States now has the most coronavirus infections worldwide, Benny Gantz is elected speaker of Israel’s Knesset in a surprise move, and the U.S. Justice Department indicts Nicolás Maduro on drug charges.
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U.S. Now the Global Epicenter of Coronavirus Pandemic
The United States can now claim the unwelcome title as the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic. It is the first country to overtake China in the total number of infections since the outbreak began. Just under 15,000 new infections were reported yesterday, the majority in the state of New York. Italy, which has suffered the highest death toll of the pandemic and recorded over 6,000 cases yesterday, is set to overtake China’s infection rate by the end of today.
Speaking at a White House briefing, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed doubt that China was being forthcoming with its infection data, “you don’t know what the numbers are in China.”
Trump again restated his goal to get Americans back to work and for normal economic life to resume, “They have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly,” he said.
Record unemployment claims. It was a day of grim records for the world’s largest economy, as the number of unemployment claims exploded to a record high of 3.3 million. The previous record was set in 1982, when 695,000 people filed unemployment claims. The number of Americans out of work may well be higher, as many U.S. states do not allow the self-employed and so-called gig workers to file claims.
How bad is the U.S. epidemic likely to get? A survey of 18 epidemiologists by Thomas McAndrew at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst provides some sober reading. In the survey, experts say COVID-19 will cause approximately 195,000 deaths in the United States and predict that a “second wave” of the virus is likely to occur between August and December of this year.
What We’re Following Today
Maduro indicted. U.S. Attorney General Willam P. Barr announced a multi-count indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and 14 other Venezuelan officials for alleged “narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking” as well as gun crimes. The indictment alleges Maduro was himself responsible for negotiating cocaine deals as part of a government-run drug cartel and for collaborating with the rebel group FARC in Colombia to traffic cocaine into the United States.
“We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes,” Barr said. “Those 250 metric tons equate to 30 million lethal doses.” Cocaine is the fourth most lethal drug in the United States—prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids all have higher mortality rates.
Chris White, a professor at Marshall University and author of The War on Drugs in the Americas, told Foreign Policy that this kind of drug trafficking by governments has been common in the history of the region, citing cases in Mexico, Cuba, and Jamaica. “It gets to the point where it’s impossible to stop the flow of drugs through your country, and so the government ends up being involved so they can get a cut of it—in this case a cut of the profits out of Colombia,” he said.
Gantz elected Knesset speaker. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has been elected speaker of the Israeli parliament with the support of right-wing parties in a shock move that signals that an emergency coalition deal with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is imminent. While Gantz’s supporters on the left expressed disbelief and several of his colleagues moved to secede from the Blue and White party, right-wing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett congratulated the two leaders on Twitter for reaching an agreement, although no formal announcement has been made.
Netanyahu had announced earlier in the week that he had agreed a deal with Gantz that would have the Blue and White leader take over as prime minister in 18 months. Gantz’s fellow Blue and White leaders, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, denounced the move and accused Gantz of betraying voters, having “surrendered” to Netanyahu, and “crawling” into a coalition of “extremists and extortionists.”
More Iran sanctions. The United States has imposed more sanctions on Iran for the third time in the past two weeks. This round targets five companies and 15 individuals over their support of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and related militias. Following the sanctions, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Does the US want a ‘forever pandemic’? Moral imperative to stop observing the bully’s sanctions.”
Japan cases surge. Japan has taken new measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after cases tripled in Tokyo in the last four days. Japan has yet to call for a state of emergency, but has banned entry from 21 European countries and Iran, as well as setting up a crisis task force. Japan now has 1,399 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Brexit talks. Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom are in limbo as the coronavirus has upended schedules and led to the quarantine of top negotiators on both sides. The clock is ticking toward a July 1 deadline, when both sides can agree to extend the transition period by one or two years. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed for the U.K. to leave the customs union and EU single market by the end of the year.
Mali’s opposition. The Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cissé has gone missing while campaigning in an area of the country known to be a hotspot for jihadist attacks. Eleven members of his delegation are also missing. A member of Cissé’s party believes that the group was kidnapped, although there are no more details at this time. Legislative elections in Mali are due to take place this Sunday.
Northern border tensions. Canada has pushed back on a U.S. proposal to send troops to the border between the two countries. A U.S. official said the military presence would allow increased communications and monitoring abilities for border agents. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the proposal was an “entirely unnecessary step which we would view as damaging to our relationship… The public health situation does not require such action.”
In the Belgian town of Baarle-Hertog, which itself sits within the Dutch municipality of Baarle-Nassau, conflicting lockdown rules between the two countries has put residents in a tough situation. The town’s streets straddle the border between the countries to the extent that Dutch shops have remained open while Belgian shops have closed because Belgium has enacted strict rules that only allow citizens to visit grocery stores and pharmacies. “I live just 50 meters away, I walk by, but I cannot go into any of these shops because I am Belgian,” Frans De Bont, mayor of Baarle-Hertog, told Reuters.
That’s it for today.