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.
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
A request by the interim Haitian government to the United Nations and United States to send troops to the island nation could place the Biden administration in a bind. The request from Port au Prince was made to help the government stabilize the situation on the ground and pave the way for elections in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The US is sending FBI officials to assist with the investigation. As that investigation continues, a dangerous political crisis has emerged in Haiti in the aftermath of Moise’s killing. Right now the crisis is precariously close to becoming a battle for power that could potentially destabilize the country for years. The authority of the interim government is being challenged on multiple political fronts. Concurrently, a surge in gang activity threatens to bring on destabilization faster than anyone has anticipated.
The request for troops comes at a sensitive time for the Biden administration. As the removal of US troops from Afghanistan comes to an end, and the White House trying to diminish the US military presence overseas, a new mission now will leave the White House open to criticism. Given that the disorder and strife taking place in Haiti right now is being fueled by political instability and corruption, the emerging crisis there uncomfortably resembles the darker times in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, intervention will be viewed negatively, even if only a limited force is introduced.
On the flip side, doing nothing could end up being worse. Tomorrow’s post will be centered on the consequences that could arise from the United States turning a blind eye to the troubles that are now threatening to envelope Haiti.
Author’s Update: With Cuba joining Haiti as another potential point of instability in the region, the next post will be a combination Cuba/Haiti update and will be published Tuesday afternoon, not today. — Mike 12 July, 2021 1606 Hours, Eastern
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.
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.