Caribbean Crises Update: 15 July, 2021

Should the Biden administration decide against US military intervention in Haiti, such a decision runs the risk of setting a dangerous precedent. Moreover, it will serve as a signal to America’s allies and adversaries around the world. For allies such as Taiwan it poses a dangerous question: If the United States is reluctant to use its military power to aid a friendly nation in its own backyard, what does that say about the US commitment to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese attack? The Biden administration has promised to support Taiwan if China turns its sights on the island nation. A reluctance to answer Haiti’s request for military assistance leaves little margin for error when US actions do not measure up to US words and promises.

From the vantage point of an American adversary, the absence of a US intervention in Haiti could serve to entice it to increase its footprint and influence in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps even to add fuel to the fire and bring about further instability that could be used to its advantage. Venezuela is a convenient base of operations for the usual lineup of suspects- China, Russia and even Iran, to orchestrate moves in the Western Hemisphere. Or Venezuela can initiate action on its own, albeit in limited fashion. Cuba has been a close friend and ally of the Maduro regime. If the situation in Cuba deteriorates, Venezuelan assistance will be fast in coming. Exactly what form the assistance would take is open to debate given Venezuela’s limited resources of course.

China has been moving beneath the radar in the Western Hemisphere for years. Its footprint has not yet been established firmly, yet inroads have been made in Venezuela and other places. Beijing has deepened ties with a number of nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. China is looking to develop and establish a permanent presence in the region. Right now, Panama seems to be the likely target, but in the event of an American slip up elsewhere in the region, the Chinese footprint could end up in the Caribbean.

The United States must weigh its moves in the Caribbean carefully and take into account the intentions and agendas of its global competitors. The Biden administration’s foreign policy team has not had smooth sailing so far this year. From butting heads with China, to the resurgence of the Taliban in the last days of the Afghan drawdown, the White House and State Department have been rocked back on their heels, so to speak. Still, that provides no justification to ignore the importance of the Caribbean to US policy. Friends and enemies alike are watching events in Haiti and Cuba closely.

In this era of strategic competition the Caribbean has regained significance. Washington needs to remember this.

Caribbean Crises Update 14 July, 2021

The United States is now faced with a pair of crises in the Caribbean that have cropped up within a week of each other. In Haiti, a chaotic situation in the aftermath of President Moise’s assassination is creating conditions the interim-government (legitimate or not) is not equipped to handle. A request has gone out to Washington DC and the United Nations for troops to safeguard the island’s infrastructure and keep the violent gangs in check. The US has not responded the way many observers and Haitians have expected. There’s a historical precedent of US military intervention on the island nation following the assassination or overthrow of a Haitian president. The presence of US troops has more often than not been the key to stabilizing the nation. Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin is that Haiti often returns to chaos following the withdrawal of foreign peacekeepers.

This time around, Washington is increasingly reluctant to send troops into Haiti, despite repeated requests by Haitian politicians. The nation is entering a non-interventionist periods, similar to the 1930s and 1970s, meaning that there’s little possibility of the US committing troops, even in our own backyard, unless our national interests are directly threatened. The Biden administration is sending in civilians from multiple US government agencies in the hopes that they can help stabilize Haiti before it is too far gone. Given how the situation on the ground in Haiti is resembling a power keg more and more with every passing day, there’s no reason to expect them to find success.

Author’s Note: My power is flickering so I’m going to end this prematurely tonight. There are heavy storms passing through. I’ll pick up on it again tomorrow afternoon. Apologies. –Mike

Protests Break Out In Cuba

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.

Venezuela Update: 1 May, 2019

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Opposition supporters staged mass protests for the second consecutive day in Caracas and around the country. Opposition leader and interim national leader Juan Guaido addressed his supporters today and vowed to continue the demonstrations every day “to achieve freedom.” He also stated that a series of staggered strikes will begin tomorrow and evolve into a general strike by the end of the week. Guaido’s pushing forward and is almost single-handedly keeping the effort going. Quite honestly, the uprising has not gone as well as Guaido had hoped or expected. Contrary to his hopes, the majority of Venezuela’s senior military leaders have not given their support to the opposition. Two days of demonstrations, and sometimes violent clashes with government forces has not budged Nicolas Maduro. It is safe to say now that the military uprising was stillborn. Guaido and the opposition will have to keep the pressure on the Maduro regime without the backing of Venezuela’s armed forces and its leadership.

Maduro has Russia and Cuba to thank for his remaining in power. Their support is all that is keeping him from being deposed, and if Moscow and Havana waiver, Maduro will suffer. This does not seem probable though, especially considering that Maduro was about to leave the country before the Russians convinced him to remain. Unless the opposition manages to retake the initiative and apply significant pressure on the Maduro regime by this weekend, Guaido’s masterstroke will be considered a failure. At that time, the geopolitical dimensions will retake centerstage and the next move in this crisis will be orchestrated in Washington DC, not Caracas.

Venezuela Update #2: Geopolitics Taking Center Stage

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The sun is setting in Venezuela and the whereabouts of Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro are unknown for the moment. Maduro has not been seen in public all day. The Venezuelan strongman is likely in a secure location outside of the city, and even more likely under the protection of Russian and Cuban troops. Guaido’s current location is not known either. If the uprising is in fact bogging down, he needs to be seen out in public to rally the troops, so to speak. There are certainly security concerns for him right now as well, but the risks may have to be taken.

 

A tweet by opposition politician Antonio Ledezma claims Leopoldo Lopez has not requested asylum from Chile and is no longer at the Chilean embassy. Ledezma’s tweet contradicts earlier reports that Ledezma had requested political asylum from Chilean officials at the embassy.

 

Geopolitical activity has ramped up through the late afternoon and early evening. President Trump is warning Cuba to end its military support for the Maduro regime or face economic sanctions, and a full embargo. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in an earlier interview on CNN that the Washington has indications Maduro was actually prepared to depart Venezuela but the Russians convinced him to stay. If this turns out to be accurate it brings into question the level of commitment Russia has for keeping Maduro in power. More importantly, it leads Washington to wonder just how deep that commitment will go if the uprising continues. For its part, Moscow has claimed the US is trying to undermine a Russian ally, a statement entirely open to interpretation.