Protest rallies broke out in Cuba today as citizens took to the streets and voiced their discontent with the current government, as well as shortages of food and medicine that have grown significantly worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation where dissent is often dealt with swiftly and brutally, the protests appear to have taken the government by surprise. The protest rallies took place in cities and towns around the country. Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín all saw protests, as did a number of smaller towns. Eventually, they came to Havana where a strong police presence was waiting. Thousands of people took part nationwide, making today’s protests the largest in Cuba since the Balsero crisis in 1994.
A shortage in COVID-19 vaccines seems to have been a contributing factor for today’s events too. Cuba has been setting record highs in the number of COVID cases of late. Efforts to control transmission of the virus have not kept up with the rise in cases. Cuba’s economy is also in the midst of a contraction. Economic sanctions and multiple layers of bureaucracy have combined to bring production in agricultural and essential food sectors to a near standstill. Of course, these problems are all symptoms of the main ailment facing Cubans: the authoritarian government in Havana.
It did not take very long for the Cuban government to lay blame for the protests at the feet of the United States. The next step in the government’s response will be watched closely by the US and other nations in the region. This is the first major test for Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel since he assumed power in April of this year.
For the US, the Cuba demonstrations could serve to bring about another test for the Biden administration which is now contending with Haiti and the aftermath of its president’s assassination last week.
With the COVID-19 pandemic waning in most areas of the world, the time to begin seriously pondering what the post-COVID world will look like is almost upon us. To be fair, there has been a healthy amount of speculation about that topic since the beginning of the pandemic. However, between then and the present day, new economic, military, diplomatic and geopolitical realities have emerged and obscured the global picture in a myriad of ways.
There will be new realities to contend with. Some nations will refuse or fail to live up to this and inevitably their power and influence will retrograde. Others will recognize the new dynamic in play and attempt to turn it to their advantage. Both of these groups will be made up mainly of middle powers, with a handful of notable Great powers in decline tossed in. One tier above this coming fray will be the remaining Great Powers jockeying for position and searching for ways to extend their influence and power around the world. The obstacle facing some of these powers is their obstinance. Specifically, their tendencies to resort to reflexive, short-term policies and solutions to long term matters. The failure to reengineer their thinking and equip properly for the coming era, which has the potential to be an era defined by unpredictability and sudden shifts in the balance of power.
Finally, at the top stands the United States and China. The two Superpowers are primed to set the tone into the first years of the Post-COVID era. Both have the power and potential to shape the world through their policies and actions, as will the direction and tone of Sino-US relations.
Throughout the summer, the potential look of the Post-COVID world will be examined and discussed at length.
Author’s Note: Holiday weekend is wrapped up, so I’m starting off slow with a short post today and will get up to speed again by the end of the week.
New efforts by the United States government to determine the origins of the COVID-19 virus are causing unease in Beijing. China’s foreign ministry has rejected the possibility of a connection between the virus and a virus research laboratory in Wuhan and accused the US of “political manipulation and blame shifting.” Chinese authorities linked the earliest cases of the virus to a seafood market leading the initial scientific theories to center around the idea of COVID-19 first being transmitted from animals to humans.
Growing speculation appears to point in the direction of the virus having escaped from the Wuhan lab. Although the evidence available in the public domain has not changed, media reports from some US outlets in the past week suggest that US intelligence agencies received information that three staff members at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were sick enough to go hospital in November 2019 with symptoms very similar to those of the coronavirus. Days later, the Biden administration ordered the US intelligence community to assess the origins of the virus and whether COVID-19 could’ve leaked from the Wuhan lab.
China is understandably angered by this. Beijing has spent much of the past fifteen months conducting damage control. The government’s actions, and as the case turned out, inactions, in the early days of the pandemic caused alarm and concern in a number of national capitals across the world. Many people believed, and still do, that China is hiding and distorting the facts.
Now that the Biden administration is openly challenging the truth according to China, the Chinese government is moving to counter the US argument and expected blowback. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Washington’s words show that the US “does not care about facts or truth, and has zero interest in a serious science-based study of origins. Their aim is to use the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation, political manipulation and blame shifting. They are being disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people’s lives and counter-productive to the concerted efforts to fight the virus.” Running parallel with China’s clunky public accusations such as this one, will be more clandestine efforts to dampen the effects of the widening US investigation. Media outlets, politicians and businesses with financial ties and relationships with the Chinese government and CCP will be approached, persuaded and in some cases blackmailed or threatened.
We’ve seen it before and the fact that China is responding so fast to the return of COVID-19 suspicions indicates that Beijing might have more to hide than it is letting on.
As India struggles beneath the weight of a major COVID-19 outbreak, promises of assistance are coming from around the world, most notably from Beijing and Washington. Not surprisingly, it is the words and actions of the United States and China that are attracting the lion’s share of attention and commentary from inside of India at the present time. The Indian government has remained silent on China’s offers to provide medical assistance, and with good reason. There is a great deal of suspicion about China’s motivations, both in government circles and in the population at large. The sentiment is that China is not concerned about India and is only looking to use the moment as an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s failure to respond swiftly and decisively to India’s latest outbreak. Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a good relationship over the last five years, in large part due to the importance each nation has placed on countering China. Beijing would love nothing more than to drive a wedge in between the two nations and highlight how the US reluctance to help India has compounded the effects of this latest outbreak for India’s citizenry. In fact, for the past few days the CCP-backed Global Times has criticized the US for dragging its heels in providing aid to India.
This type of criticism is a major reason for New Delhi having not accepted China’s offer of assistance. Public opinion is a powerful weapon and taking Beijing’s offer would’ve painted the US as an unreliable partner. With anti-China sentiment still high and the border dispute unresolved, the Indian government is compelled to consider how its moves will appear both domestically and on the international stage. Needless to say, last thing the Indian government needs is to paint itself into a corner geopolitically.
Fortunately for India, there are a great number of other nations willing to help, the majority of whom are not handicapped by a geopolitical agenda driving its humanitarian aid. Oxygen supplies in many Indian hospitals have been depleted. Great Britain and Singapore are two nations who’ve delivered on their promises, providing oxygen tanks and ventilators. France has sent oxygen production units, while Germany and Canada have also stated their intentions to provide assistance.
Author’s Note: Just a short post this evening, but I will get back on track tomorrow or Wednesday. –Mike
2021 is less than two months old and already, the European Union has been made painfully aware (once again) of its limitations. So far, 2021 has highlighted the deep divide between the grandiose designs of the EU and its limited capabilities. Even more urgent for Brussels has been the sudden lack of design or guidance from the executive EU’s executive arm.
The COVID-19 vaccines scandal is becoming the straw that could, potentially, break the bloc’s back. In short, the EU has been overconfident about vaccine production and costs. The rollout process has been slow and disorganized. Meanwhile, in Great Britain 12 million citizens have received their first dosage of vaccine, surpassing the EU in number of shots given as well as distribution time.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under increasingly heavy fire over the EU’s stuttered vaccine rollout. She has admitted being overconfident about production targets, and the original timelines, but that is where the mea culpa stops. She has failed to accept responsibility for the foul ups or present a realistic plan to the governments and people of member-states. In other words, von der Leyen has left much of the continent hanging in the breeze as she tries to craft a patch for this particular crisis.
If this weren’t enough, two weeks ago the EU announced its intention to invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocols. Fortunately, saner head prevailed. That’s a topic worth discussing more in the near future when more time is available.