In times of shadow and despair, populists and authoritarians move in to undermine free speech and democracy. For authoritarian-minded leaders, wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, writing in the New York Review of Books, “the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic government’s dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies”.
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On January 24, 2020, the Bana, a freighter, left the Turkish port of Mersin. Its destination was the Tunisian harbor of Gabes. It was a routine trip, until its transponder was deactivated and the ship disappeared from the radar. No mayday was received; the boat vanished like a ghost. Four days later a satellite observed three dots approaching Tripoli, Libya and when the images were enlarged, it became clear that the Bana was on a secret mission, since she was shadowed by two Turkish navy G-class frigates. At the end of March, the BBC broadcast the proof: videos, obviously recorded by a cell phone, documenting some of the cargo: tanks, jeeps with anti-tank guns, self-propelled howitzers.
She is just seventeen. An African-American high-school student. If Darnella Frazier had not turned on her cellphone on May 25, when she witnessed four police officers arresting a black man in Minneapolis, the world would never have known how George Floyd died that day, or why. A convenience store employee had called the police, accusing Mr Floyd of buying cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. Possibly Mr Floyd resisted arrest, which did not result in a “medical incident” as the police initially claimed, but allegedly in his murder. Frazier’s video proves that one officer put a knee on the neck of the arrested man. George Floyd said repeatedly “I can‘t breathe”, but there was no mercy.
When the cruise ship the MS Braemar in March had coronavirus cases confirmed on board, it struggled to find somewhere to dock. The Americans turned it away, as did the Bahamas. But another nation, just 200 miles off the U.S. coast, accepted the desperate Braemar. Cuba allowed it to berth in Puerto Mariel, 40 kilometers west of the capital, Havana. Within a day, in cooperation with the British government, Cuban medical teams accompanied more than 680 passengers to Havana airport and evacuated them to Britain.
China, which in 1984 signed a treaty to take over Hong Kong from Britain, agreeing to rule it until 2047 as an autonomous Hong Kong Special Administrative region, has suddenly turned impatient.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is almost a mirror image of U.S. president Donald Trump. They have considered COVID-19 a “hoax, ”, ( Trump), or a “fantasy” (Bolsonaro). They both believe a potentially toxic drug, hydroxychloroquine, which was developed to fight malaria, to be the miracle cure for the virus. They have refused to wear facemasks. They have both pushed back against lockdown rules. Bolsonaro even issued a presidential decree that exempted churches and lottery houses from state and municipal health regulations by classifying them as “essential services”, thus allowing people to congregate. The next day a federal court suspended the decree, ruling that it violated federal law.
They live in the shadow of death: the United States has 2,650 death-row inmates, 740 in California’s San Quentin State Prison alone. Today, these prisoners fear another executioner, the invisible COVID-19.
On February 3, 2003, Colin Powell, U.S. President George Bush’s Secretary of State, informed the United Nations Security Council about secret information collected by the U.S. about Iraq’s weapons of mass destructions. “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions,” he said. There was “no doubt in my mind” that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program, and the invasion of Iraq was urgent and justified, because “the gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world”.