Political Chaos In Haiti

Political chaos is nothing new for the island nation of Haiti. The political situation on the ground there was growing turbulent even before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse early this week. Now in the wake of his brutal death, a high-stakes power struggle is emerging between two competing prime ministers. Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, filled the power vacuum almost immediately by claiming he was in charge. Joseph moved quickly, assuming control of the army and police and declaring a state of siege nationwide for the next fifteen days. Whether or not he has the legal authority to make these moves is unclear. In fact, Joseph might not even be the legal prime minister at present. Two days before Moïse died, the fallen president appointed a new PM. Ariel Henry was set to assume the duties of prime minister this week. “I am a prime minister with a decree that was passed in my favor,” Henry said in an interview with a domestic newspaper. He criticized Joseph for declaring a state of siege and is calling for talks to ensure a smooth political transition.

For that matter, President Moïse’s status was in question in the weeks leading to his death. He had been ruling by decree for over a year amid growing opposition to his rule. Jurists in Haiti claim his term ended in February, however Moïse soldiered on beyond then. He avoided holding national elections and as the terms of various politicians in the country expired, the president installed his own supporters to these positions. Total control of Haiti’s political apparatus was a goal Moïse was striving to attain.  As time went on, protests broke out against his rule, increasing in size and frequency. During that time Haiti also had to deal with a growing wave of gang violence that further undermined the legitimacy of Moïse’s position.

And then there is the physical attack on Moïse and his wife at their private residence, which led to his death. It was undertaken by a large, well-armed group of men, most likely mercenaries of mainly Colombian background. A number were killed in gun battles with Haitian police hours after the assassination of the president, and some have been captured. In the coming days, as the political situation plays out there will be clues made available as to who was responsible for financing and ordering the Scarface-style assault on Moïse’s home, as well as his death.

Will Venezuela Become Another Libya?

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The past weekend’s violence on Venezuela’s borders with Colombia, and Brazil has prompted some analysts, and journalists to openly wonder if the time is coming for US military intervention in Venezuela. At first glance, this does appear to be a fair question to ask given the positions the Trump administration has taken on the Venezuelan crisis, and the Maduro regime. Venezuela is approaching the status of being a ‘Failed State.’ The economy is in ruins, citizens are fleeing the country by the tens of thousands, and just beneath the surface a civil war is brewing. As the pressure on Caracas rises, Maduro’s actions are becoming more violent, and less predictable. Citizens who openly defy him and attempt to bring relief supplies into the country are being targeted by paramilitary squads. This led to the bloodshed and violence over the weekend.

The US has a history of using the ‘Failed State’ argument to justify intervening militarily in the affairs of nation-states that were, for lack of a better term, about to go down the tubes and potentially take its neighbors down with them. Libya is the best recent example. The US spearheaded diplomatic efforts aimed at gaining UN authorization for NATO to intervene militarily in the First Libyan Civil War in 2011. The US also spearheaded the NATO military effort that came shortly afterward. President Obama took action to save the lives of innocent protesters, and other Libyan civilians who were being targeted by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Along with terrorizing his own people, he also posed a threat to the progress of Arab Spring, which was sweeping away authoritarian regimes in the region at the time.

Obama’s intervention helped rip Qadaffi from power and for a short time Libya settled down. However, Qaddafi’s ouster eventually created a power vacuum in Libya that touched off a second, even deadlier civil war, and also led to the waves of Libyan refugees swamping Southern Europe.

Libya in 2011, and Venezuela of the present day share a number of similarities. Both fit the definition of a Failed State. Oil was unable to save the Qaddafi government from ruin, and it doesn’t seem to be of much help to Maduro’s regime either. Venezuela is fast becoming the pariah of South America, much in the same way Libya was treated by most of North Africa and the Middle East.

Despite these common traits, Venezuela is not Libya. Maduro doesn’t pose a threat -real or perceived- to the United States and the Western world. Venezuela is not being used as a base of operations by international terrorist groups. The Venezuelan military, while having a handful of advanced US and Russian aircraft and weapons in its inventory, is not a force capable of aggression beyond its borders. The humanitarian crisis that Maduro’s actions have created are a tragedy, but not strong enough to act as the platform for military intervention by the US, and other Western powers.

If change is going to come to Venezuela, it will have to come from within. The US, most of South America, and Europe are content with limiting their responses to recognizing Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, donating relief supplies to Venezuela’s impoverished citizens, and imposing economic sanctions on Maduro’s government. Unless something dramatic happens, this will not change.

Saturday 25 August, 2018 Update: Venezuelan Migrant Crisis Is Exploding

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South American nations are tightening their border controls, and immigration restrictions as the exodus of refugees from Venezuela grows larger. Along with the economic crisis, and the ongoing political unrest around the country, the regime of President Nicolas Maduro now has to contend with regional tensions brought on by a migrant crisis. With chronic shortages of food and medicine now a seemingly permanent facet of daily life for Venezuelan citizens, tens of thousands are fleeing the country in the hopes of finding a better life elsewhere. These departures are not a new development. Since 2014 over two million citizens have left Venezuela.

Neighboring countries are having an increasingly difficult time accommodating them. In Brazil’s northern state of Rorima, violence has erupted when Brazilians attacked the ramshackle camps constructed by Venezuelan refugees, forcing them to flee back across the border. An attempt by Rorima to close the border was thrown out by a judge, leaving the situation unsettled and extremely volatile.  Ecuador, and Peru have taken steps designed to create breathing room, and buy time for a more permanent solution to be found. Both nations have revised their passport rules and border controls. Peru will no longer admit Venezuelans with only an identity card.  Ecuador, on the other hand, has opened a ‘humanitarian corridor’ from its northern border with Colombia to Peru. Venezuelans entering Ecuador will no longer need a passport, and the Ecuadorian government has provided buses for some of the thousands of Venezuelans heading south to find opportunities in Peru, Chile, and beyond.

The Venezuelan government took measures last week to stabilize the economy and eventually lure some citizens back. There is a new currency, the “sovereign bolivar”, which removed five zeroes from banknotes. It is backed by a cryptocurrency, the Petro, which is tied to oil prices. It’s unlikely that the “sovereign bolivar” and Petro will rescue Venezuela from further economic ruin. Oil production is declining, and the government is unable to pay its debts, or obtain more financing.

Until the economy begins to rebound significantly and the country is stabilized, Caracas should not expect the waves of Venezuelans who have left to change direction and return home. At the rate things are going, it will be a very long time before that happens.

Sunday 5 August, 2018 Update: The Alleged Assassination Attempt On Nicolas Maduro

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Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro has laid the blame for yesterday’s alleged assassination attempt against him on an international ‘far right’ plot. According to him, the conspiracy was made up of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Venezuelan exiles living in Colombia, and in the United States, as well as opposition groups in Venezuela,. Maduro then called on the Trump administration to “fight the terrorist groups that commit attacks in peaceful countries in our continent, in this case, Venezuela.”  Maduro offered no evidence to support his accusations.

Yesterday, at a military event in Caracas, Maduro was giving a speech when the alleged assassination attempt, by two explosive drones. Firefighters who were at the scene, however, dispute the drone claim, contending that a gas tank explosion in an apartment near the site of the speech. Television coverage of the event, which was carried live across Venezuela, showed no signs of drones in the air, or an explosion.

Maduro remains unpopular in Venezuela, a nation still suffering through a major economic crisis that is largely his doing. Opposition groups are often accused of plotting to assassinate government officials, or planning a coup. Maduro’s government uses these claims to justify crackdowns on the opposition groups, and the public in general. Adding Colombia, and Venezuelan exiles living abroad is a new twist. Placing responsibility for the supposed attack on external opposition groups, and the government of a neighboring nation could signal a change in tactics for Maduro’s foundering regime. As Venezuela continues to deteriorate, and support for his government evaporates completely, Maduro could be looking to rally the country against a perceived foreign threat. That way, Venezuelans might forget about the crippling poverty at home, and focus on defeating the threat to their beloved country. The strategy is no secret, and has been used countless times in Latin America by dictators faced with deteriorating domestic conditions at home.

Unfortunately for Maduro, it fails far more often than it works.

Thursday 30 March, 2017 Update: Venezuela’s Supreme Court Dissolves National Assembly

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Democracy in Venezuela has been on life support for an extended period of time. The ruling and actions by its Supreme Court Wednesday night may have pulled the plug. The court ruled that the nation’s elected legislators are ‘operating outside the law’by defying previous court ruling. As a result, the legislature is to be dissolved. The Supreme Court will assume legislative duties for the time being. The judicial body is firmly in the camp of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and its latest actions are nothing short of a coup that all but assures the nation will be under One-Man rule.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has been regarded by many as the last hope for democracy in that country. It was beginning to push back against Maduro and his United Socialist Party’s already tight grip on power. With the loss of the legislature, however, the opposition has been removed from the equation. The government is clearly operating outside of the constitution but now there is no system of checks and balances to repair the imbalance. The three branches of government will all be controlled by the United Socialist Party.

The nation is facing a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the result of the continuing economic meltdown Venezuela is enduring. Food, basic goods, and medicine are running dangerously short. Staggering inflation is making currency essentially useless and the bulk of Venezuela’s monetary reserves will go towards debt repayment.

Regional reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Peru reacted to the ruling by recalling its ambassador to Caracas and is considering the full suspension of diplomatic relations. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile all denounced Maduro’s government. The Organization of American States (OAS) also denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling. OAS Secretary General Luis Amalgro accused the Venezuelan government of attempting “a self-inflicted coup d’etat” The United States joined in by releasing a statement condemning the court’s “decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly. … We consider it a serious setback for democracy.”

How the opposition, and Venezuelan citizens respond will reveal much about the future of Venezuela. As the heartbeat of democracy there fades it becomes painfully clear that nothing short of a powerful, perhaps violent, jolt will keep it alive. Venezuelans need to act decisively and do it now. Otherwise, the nation will permanently fall into the dark peril of dictator rule.