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.

Venezuela Update: 25 January, 2019 5:00 PM Eastern Time

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On Friday Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido rejected Nicolas Maduro’s offer of talks, labeling them as “fake dialogue.” Today Maduro also appealed to President Trump and said he is ready to talk, without specifying what subjects he is prepared to discuss.

 

20 people were allegedly killed at the hands of Venezuelan security forces, and pro-government armed groups in protests held on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. The commissioner cited reliable sources when providing the number, although there has been no independent confirmation.

 

Maduro is closing the Venezuelan embassy, and consulates in the United States. With diplomatic relations now broken, US diplomats are to leave from Venezuela by the weekend. The departures have already started and are expected to be fully complete by Saturday morning.

 

The US has asked for a Saturday morning meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Venezuelan situation.

 

International reaction is falling along the expected political, and ideological lines. The United States firmly backs the opposition and recognizes Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Most other Western Hemisphere nation-states are following the US lead, and so is Great Britain. The European Union, and many European nations are voicing support for Guaido’s opposition, but thus far have not officially recognized him as being Venezuela’s leader.

 

Not all Western Hemisphere nations back Guaido, however. Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba have been steadfastly standing behind Maduro. Again, it comes down to political and ideological commonality. All three nations are leftist states. Mexico is staying on the sidelines despite past statements of support for the Maduro government by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

 

Outside of the Western Hemisphere, Russia, China, Syria, and Turkey are Maduro’s major backers.

 

Author’s Notes: We’ll continue keeping close tabs on Venezuela in the coming days. Barring any major events unfolding there or elsewhere, the next article published on Today’s Dirt will be the next entry on the US-Russia Military Balance in Europe. Enjoy your weekend!

Venezuela Update: 23 January, 2019 6:00 PM Eastern Time

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As expected, today has turned out to be an eventful day in Venezuela and it is not over yet. The revitalized opposition to Nicolas Maduro took to the streets of Caracas, and other major cities in the nation today demanding Maduro step down and cede power to National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, who is now being recognized by many nation-states as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The United States has loudly proclaimed its recognition of Guaidó, and support for the opposition. A number of nations across the globe are following the US lead and openly recognizing Guaidó.

The Maduro government responded to the US move by officially breaking off diplomatic relations with Washington. US diplomats in Venezuela have 72 hours to leave the country. It’s very likely that the US will respond to this move with additional economic sanctions in the short term. Beyond that, a number of options remain on the table depending on the course events take in the coming days.

Today’s protests in Venezuela drew tens of thousands of citizens at least. Accurate numbers are not yet available. National Guard soldiers responded with tear gas and there are reports of many clashes between soldiers and protesters, yet no reports of any deaths today. Last night, however, four protesters were killed in demonstrations. Tonight will likely bring on more protests, and tomorrow the opposition has called for large scale protests around the country.

The military remains the wild card. Maduro is urging the Venezuelan armed forces to remain united and disciplined. So long as the military remains tethered to the government, Maduro remains in power. If the moment comes when high-ranking officers, or military units start to break away from the regime, Maduro’s government could unravel swiftly.

I will provide additional updates periodically, as events continue to unfold in Venezuela.

Sunday 27 August, 2017 Update: Latest US Sanctions Could Raise Pressure on Venezuela

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As Venezuela remains perched on the brink of dissolution and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continues stripping away the last remnants of democracy in the once vibrant land’s government, the United States has decided to begin hitting Maduro where it hurts. On Friday, it was announced that President Trump has signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Venezuela. These will focus on Venezuela’s outstanding debt which has been a major economic vulnerability for the country. Venezuela, and its state-owned oil company PDVSA, owe international investors upwards of $100 billion. Sixty percent of the debts were issued in the US and are subject to US law. The new sanctions will stop Venezuela from borrowing money from international capital markets. They will also Maduro’s government from refinancing existing debts that are coming due later in 2017, likely setting up a financial crisis for Maduro to contend with in the fall.

The nuclear option for the United States has always been to prevent Venezuela from exporting oil. The chaos such a move could unleash on international energy markets makes it unpalatable to say the least. The sanctions ordered on Friday are a workable alternative to the nuclear option. For example, Citgo, which is PDVSA’s US energy company, can continue to sell gas in the US. However, it cannot send its profits back to Venezuela where it could finance PDVSA, and the Maduro government.

The next move for the Trump administration will be centered around diplomacy. The US has to make certain that nations like China, and Russia do not step in to fill the financing void that US sanctions will create. More importantly, Maduro needs to be informed that fiscal collapse can be headed off by restoring Venezuela’s democratic institutions. Washington has hinted at this possible scenario, but so far Maduro has not reacted to it. For his part, Maduro has launched a counterattack against US sanctions, and it is aimed at a domestic audience. “All they’re trying to do to attack Venezuela is crazy,” he said on Friday. “With the efforts of our people, it will fail and Venezuela will be stronger, more free, and more independent.”

In essence, Maduro has brought a knife to a gunfight. He is fighting an economic battle with nothing more than stale socialist rhetoric. Behind the scenes, he is likely hoping for intervention by China or Russia to keep his socialist paradise from going down the tubes completely. If that doesn’t come about, Maduro and Venezuela will be dangerously short on options and time.

Monday 17 July, 2017 Update: The Venezuelan Powder Keg

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The opposition movement in Venezuela has been energized by the results of Sunday’s unofficial referendum and are hoping it marks a turning point in its struggle against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Over 7.2 million Venezuelans cast votes, with the overwhelming majority were against Maduro’s plan to push forward with his plan to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. On 30 July voters will elect delegates for a constitutional assembly. The assembly will be given the power to rewrite laws and many observers view it as nothing less than a power grab on the part of Maduro.

Venezuela continues to descend deeper into economic, and political chaos. Maduro is desperately clinging to the plan for a constitutional rewrite as his cure-all. Three months of unrest, and daily clashes between protesters, and security forces have taken a toll. A new constitution that neuters the power of his opponents in the legislature will pave the way for him to contend with the opponents on the streets once and for all. In spite of the growing turmoil, anti-government feeling, and the results of the referendum yesterday, Maduro’s position is relatively stable for the time being. There are no imminent threats to his rule. Despite the efforts of anti-Maduro lawmakers and their supporters, the current president appears likely to remain in power at least through the end of the summer.

A primary reason for this has been the opposition’s disorganization and lack of unity. The opposition is comprised of people from every facet of Venezuelan society. Unfortunately, there is no fabric to mesh together. No individual leader, or leadership council to coordinate the various groups. In the absence of a cohesion, the opposition’s efforts have been restricted mainly to street protests. In their own right, the protests are powerful, but without a political element to guide and lead them, the throngs of people taking to the streets are little more than an unruly mob. Maduro’s bands of thugs have intimidated the political opposition to a large degree. Pro-government thugs regularly assault opposition lawmakers, and on one occasion Maduro even sent a group of them to the National Assembly where they entered and beat a number of lawmakers bloody.

The political chaos might end up being overshadowed by even more economic despair soon enough. Venezuela’s foreign reserves are now down to less than $10 billion. In short, the country is on the verge of going broke. If that happens, all bets are off as to what happens next.