World order, diplomacy and governance : Articles : Latin America

Beijing is no longer just a commercial partner and infrastructure lender: it is catching up with the West in pharmaceutical excellence and provider healthcare.

° Only Peru, Chile and Argentina have contracted more Chinese and Russian doses; in Brazil and Mexico, doses from the US and Europe predominate, as in the rest of the countries in the region.

° Huawei wins Brazilian 5G bid in exchange for vaccines; Beijing offers them to Paraguay if it abandons its recognition of Taiwan

° In addition to clinical trials in several nations in the second half of 2020, Argentina and Mexico will produce or package Sputnik V from June.

Arrival of a shipment of Sputnik V vaccines in Venezuela in February 2021 [Miraflores Palace].

report SRA 2021 / Emili J. Blasco [ PDF version].

Vaccination in Latin America is being done substantially with preparations developed in the United States and Europe, although media attention has privileged doses from China and Russia. The particular vaccine diplomacy carried out in recent months by Beijing and Moscow - which, with public funds, have promoted the export of injections ahead of the needs of their own inhabitants - has certainly been active and has managed to give the impression of greater influence than is real, often promising volumes of supplies that have rarely been delivered on time.

When, from June onwards, with most Americans already immunised, the Biden Administration turns its attention to providing vaccines to the region, the imbalance in favour of formulas from "Western" laboratories - also basically used in the UN's Covax system stockpiles - will be even greater. Nonetheless, the development of the health crisis over the past year will have served to consolidate China and Russia's foothold in Latin America.

To date, only Peru, Chile and Argentina have contracted more vaccines from China (CanSino, Sinopharm and Sinovac) and Russia (Sputnik V) than from the United States and Europe (AstraZeneca, J&J, Moderna and Pfizer). In the case of Peru, of the 116 million doses committed, 51 million correspond to European and/or US laboratories, 45 million to Chinese laboratories and 20 million to Russian laboratories. In the case of Chile, of the 79.8 million doses, 18 million are from the first group, while 61.8 million are Chinese. For Argentina, of the 62.4 million doses reserved, 22.4 million are "Western", 10 million are Russian and 30 million are Chinese. These are data from AS/COA, which keeps a detailed account of various aspects of the evolution of the health crisis in Latin America.

As for the two largest countries in the region, the preference for US and European formulations is notorious. Of the 661.4 million doses contracted by Brazil, 481.4 million come from the US, compared to 100 million Chinese doses and 80 million doses of Sputnik V (moreover, it is not clear that the latter will ever arrive, given the recent rejection of their authorisation by Brazilian regulators). Of the 310.8 million contracted by Mexico, 219.8 million are "Western" vaccines, 67 million are Chinese vaccines and 24 million are Sputnik V vaccines.

Tables: reproduction of AS/COA, database online, information as of 31 March 2021

Testing and production

The Chinese and Russian vaccines were not unknown in Latin American public opinion, as in the second half of 2020 they were frequently in the news as a result of clinical trials carried out in some countries. South America was of particular interest to the world's leading laboratories, as it was home to a high incidence of the epidemic along with a certain medical development that allowed for serious monitoring of the efficacy of the preparations, compatible with a level of economic need that facilitated thousands of volunteers for the trials. This made the region the focus of global clinical trials of the main anti-Covid-19 vaccines, with Brazil being the epicentre of degree program experimentation. In addition to trials conducted by Johnson & Johnson in six countries, and by Pfizer and Moderna in two, Sputnik V was tested in three (Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela) and in two by Sinovac (Brazil and Chile) and Sinopharm (Argentina and Peru).

Experimentation, however, was due to private agreements between laboratories, which required little involvement of the health or political authorities of the country in question. The commitment of certain governments to the Chinese and Russian vaccines came with purchase negotiations and then with their subsequent authorisation for use, a final step that has not always taken place. A further alliance in the case of Sputnik V has been Argentina's project to produce the Russian preparation on its territory from next June, for its own vaccination and distribution to neighbouring countries, as well as that of Mexico for the packaging of the doses, also from June. Argentina was the first country to register and approve Sputnik V, using information it has since shared with other countries in the region. Mexico's move has been interpreted as a way to put pressure on the US to liberalise the export of its vaccines as soon as possible.

China has also exerted pressure on some South American countries. It has taken advantage of Brazil's dire need for vaccines to force Jair Bolsonaro's government to allow Huawei to bid for Brazil's 5G network , despite having initially vetoed the Chinese business . Similarly, Beijing seems to have promised vaccines to Paraguay in exchange for the country ceasing to recognise Taiwan. In addition, the Chinese government last year averaged a billion-dollar credit for health procurement, as the head of the US Southern Command has warned, drawing attention to China's use of the crisis to gain further penetration in the hemisphere.


Whatever the final map of the application of each preparation in the vaccination process, what is certain is that above all Beijing, but in some ways also Moscow, has achieved an important victory, even though its vaccines may be far behind in the total number of doses injected in Latin America issue . In a region accustomed to identifying the United States and Europe with scientific capacity and high medical and pharmaceutical development , for the first time China is no longer seen as the source of cheap and unsophisticated products, but on a par in terms of research and health efficacy. Beyond Beijing's successful management of the pandemic, which can be relativised considering the authoritarian nature of its political system, China emerges as a leading country, capable of reaching a vaccine as quickly as the West and, to a certain extent, comparable to it. Russia's image lags somewhat behind, but Sputnik V consolidates Russia's "return" to a position of reference letter that it had lost completely in recent decades.

As a result of the emergence of Covid-19, in the collective Latin American imagination, China is no longer just a factor in trade, infrastructure construction and the granting of credits for development , but has established its penetration as a full-fledged power, also in terms of a central element in the lives of individuals, such as overcoming the pandemic.

Latin American countries have suffered the health and economic crisis of the coronavirus like no other region in the world. With 8.2% of the world's population, by October 2020 it accounted for 28% of global Covid-19 positive cases and 34% of deaths. The worsening of status in countries such as India may have changed these percentages somewhat, but the region has maintained important hotspots of infection, such as Brazil, followed by Mexico and Peru. To cope with this status, Latin America receives two-thirds of the IMF's global financial aid pandemic: the region has 17 million more poor people and will not recover its previous per capita income until 2025, later than the rest of the world.

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