US President Joe Biden should offer Covid-19 vaccine assistance directly to the local governments of the Brazilian Amazon to establish a dialogue on deforestation and climate change, according to experts in the United States and Brazil.
On March 5, governors of nine Brazilian Amazon states petitioned the American ambassador in Brazil for assistance getting direct access to vaccines for the region, which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic that has left more than 300,000 dead across the country.
The move would allow the states - with US government help - to obtain vaccines directly from pharmaceutical companies and distribute them through local public health systems, circumventing the federal government in Brasilia.
Among those calling on the Biden administration to accept the offer is Justin Talbot Zorn, a senior advisor at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Earlier in March, Zorn, along with Mathias Alencasto, a fellow at the Centro Brasileiro de AnĂˇlise e Planejamento in Sao Paulo, published an op-ed advocating for the move in Foreign Policy magazine.
In an interview with LPO, Zorn noted that the move comes as the US seems to be increasingly willing to use vaccines for diplomacy and to accomplish foreign policy objectives. Earlier in March, for example, it confirmed it was planning to send 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico.
"There's clearly a humanitarian interest, but I think there's also pretty clearly an interest in aligning that to immigration policy with Mexico," he said. "Insofar as the administration is going to be thinking about its diplomacy and other policy objectives, it could be addressing climate and deforestation."
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is widely considered an obstacle to the US government's environmental diplomacy, which is now headed by John Kerry. During Biden's presidential campaign, we suggested offering $20 billion in exchange for Amazon preservation. Bolsonaro responded by tweeting that Brazil' sovereignty "is non-negotiable."
"There's an impasse dealing with the Bolsonaro government...this isn't reaching out to them. We're talking about reaching out directly to these states," Zorn added. Such a move, he said, would require "circumventing" diplomatic norms.
"These are also times in which we need to circumvent norms. There's not time to be following diplomatic norms on a question like saving the lungs of the earth."
In a separate interview with LPO, Mathias Alencasto said that a direct relationship in terms of vaccines between the Biden administration and the Amazon governors would be met with resistance from Brasilia.
"What I think would happen is that he would resort to all legal ways of blocking the initiative at the regional level. That would intensify the conflict between federal and state authorities," he said.
"But a relationship between the Amazon governors and US authorities would give a layer of protection to those state authorities against the authoritarian attack of Bolsonaro," he added. "There's a window of opportunity here."
Zorn added that this strategy from the Biden administration would put Bolsonaro "in a really tough place".
"He's very clearly failing with respect to the vaccination campaign and the management of Covid," he said. "It's an unpopular move to say that cutting down forests is more important than keeping people safe."
To date, the US government has not responded to the request from the Brazilian governors.
"I'm optimistic, because the Amazon has a great case. It relates directly to climate policy and is the epicenter of the pandemic in Brazil. It epitomizes the intersection between the climate emergency and the pandemic," Alencasto said.
"For tragic reasons, the Amazon has a great argument to receive those vaccines."
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