Unrest in Haiti is creating a volatile situation for residents, and foreign nationals alike. The Haitian government’s plans to increase fuel prices led to major protests, demonstrations, and looting breaking out across the island late last week. Three people are confirmed dead, with scores more injured to varying degrees. The intensity, and violence embedded in the protests has only escalated over the weekend, to the point where the US embassy in Port au Price is recommending US citizens in Haiti shelter in place, and not attempt to reach the airport unless their flights are confirmed to be departing. Scores of flights have been cancelled and it doesn’t seem likely that the situation will change anytime soon.
The protests, and increasing unrest on the island is a difficult enough situation by itself. The presence of stranded US citizens, including church groups, and volunteers, only compounds the situation. The Haitian government is becoming less able to actively protect US citizens as the situation continues to deteriorate. This raises the possibility of a potential US military operation to evacuate US citizens from Haiti being launched in the near future. It would not be the first time US forces were used for such a purpose. US Marines are tailor-made for just such a contingency. Unfortunately, there is no Amphibious Ready Group currently at sea in the Caribbean or Western Atlantic. The USS Kearsarge ARG was in the region late last month performing workups for an upcoming deployment, but the LHD and accompanying ships are back in Norfolk right now. There are other options available to insert US forces into Haiti if the Trump administration decides that the move is necessary. Weather will play a major role in US options in the coming days. What remains of Tropical Storm Beryl is approaching the eastern Caribbean and could affect any rescue operations on or around Haiti.
On Saturday the Haitian government halted plans to raise fuel prices, but the move has yet to help improve the situation in the streets.
When most people think of Jamaica they envision pristine white beaches, clear ocean water, and the warm Caribbean sunshine in ample supply. Little, if any, thought is given to the vicious underbelly of the tropical paradise. Jamaica is an island where violent crime is a way of life in many of the island’s poorest neighborhoods. Recently, however, there has been a surge in the number of violent crimes in the St. James Parish area. This section of the island includes Montego Bay and resorts. The increase in violence forced Jamaica’s Prime Minister Alex Holness to declare a state of emergency for St James Parish last Thursday. Martial law has been declared in the area, while military and security forces have moved in. Checkpoints have been set up, and patrols are moving through the streets.
After the declaration was made, Canada and Great Britain issued warnings to their citizens on the island, advising them to exercise caution. The US State Department issued advisories earlier in the month and has suggested that US citizens not venture outside of the resort compounds that they’re staying at.
This is not the first time Jamaica has been forced to declare a state of emergency because of criminal activity. The 2010 Kingston Unrest that followed the attempted extradition of Jamaican drug lord Christopher Coke, lasting for a month. Over 700 people were arrested and 70 civilians killed. The current state of emergency is unlikely to spiral into the same sort of long term unrest, but the simple fact something similar is happening again raises questions about the nation’s stability.
The stability of some Caribbean islands and possessions was put to the test during Hurricane Irma’s jaunt through the region in September, 2017, and the results were anything but encouraging. Storm damage severely damaged the infrastructure in Saint Martin and led to food and water shortages. Reports of violence and looting led to the dispatch of French and Dutch troops. British law enforcement officers, and a small number of troops were deployed into affected British Overseas Territories where order had to be restored.
It’s 8:30 in the eastern United States and Hurricane Irma will shortly be making landfall in Florida. Like most folks around the world I’ve been tracking the progress of this storm over the past week. It has already devastated Caribbean islands and promises to deliver heavy rain, storm surge, and winds over 110 MPH to the Florida Keys and much of the state’s west coast.
I’d like to move away from foreign policy and defense topics for a moment and ask all of you to say a prayer for the people of the Caribbean who have endured Irma, and the people in Florida who are about to. This is the second major hurricane to affect the United States in two weeks and there could be another on the horizon. Every possible precaution has been taken by local, state, and federal officials. Right now all they can do is watch, wait, and stand ready to swoop in with help after the storm passes.
This is going to be a very long night for Floridians, and those of us who have friends and family down there. I’m hoping everyone comes through this story safely. My prayers are with you all.