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.
Gaza exploded in violence, and blood today when a protest by Palestinians turned into a mass attempt by thousands of people to cross the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas, and rifle fire in an effort to prevent the Palestinians from entering Israel. Monday’s clashes and casualties have made it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Gaza war. The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise, with over 1300 men, women, and children injured to one degree or another.
Israel defended its actions, claiming it opened fire to maintain control of its border, and to prevent Hamas from using the protest as a distraction to filter operatives across the border and launch attacks on the Israeli side. Israel, of course, has the right to defend its borders from outside aggression. Hamas is responsible for launching dozens of attacks against Israel throughout the years. The Islamist militant organization controls governance in Gaza, and has a major influence over the Palestinian authority. Hamas is also backed in large part by Iran, making the true motivation behind today’s protest suspect, given what has been happening between Iran and Israel in recent weeks.
Monday’s protest in Gaza was the latest in a series of demonstrations over the last seven weeks to protest Israel’s economic blockade against Gaza. Meanwhile, on the West Bank thousands of protesters came out to demonstrate against today’s formal opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem has caused a wave of anger from Palestinians, and many Arabs in the region.
Speaking for the first time since protests began in Iran last Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies for instigating the internal strife. He was quoted with the following statement: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence services to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”
Although Khamenei did not specifically mention the enemies by name, his comment was designed to be a swipe at Iran’s traditional adversaries, namely Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. President Trump has been especially vocal with his support of Iranian protesters, tweeting his views as well as reminders that the United States is watching events in Iran closely. So is the rest of the world, for that matter. Khamenei had to release a statement of some sort in response to Trump’s comments. It comes as no surprise that his first public comment on the crisis was to blame the riots on Iran’s enemies. The statement was generic. When faced with internal unrest, Iran has a history of blaming its enemies for inciting it.
At least twenty Iranians have died in the protests and over 500 were arrested thus far. Those numbers will continue to rise as long as the unrest continues. This round of protests and riots is significantly smaller than those which took place in 2009. Back then, millions protested the results of the presidential election that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in office. Security forces eventually crushed the Green Movement following weeks of violent protests.
The current demonstrations are being fueled by economic hardship though and this reality is leaving Iran’s leadership somewhat unnerved. Economic problems have a way of spiraling into political chaos. Inflation and unemployment are rising, yet the government has been unable to do anything substantial to reverse economic conditions. Iranians are feeling the pinch and their frustrations have blossomed into anger against the government. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.
The protests going on in Tehran have surprised much of the world, and appear to have caught the Iranian government flatfooted. This round of protests has not stemmed from the questionable results of a presidential election, as the 2009 protests and subsequent Green movement did. This time around the grievances are economic in nature. Rampant corruption, and a declining standard of living are the causes that have brought Iranian citizens out to protest the government. The regime is likely to come down hard on the protesters. Security forces have been clashing with students around Tehran University and other parts of the capital. Those protests are expanding across the country right now. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, however, this challenge to the Iranian government is not likely to evaporate quickly.
The Trump administration warned Iranian leaders last night that the world is watching events unfold. It is unlikely that Iran’s government will pay heed to the US comments. They have already been labeled as ‘opportunistic’ in government statements. Iran has enough problems to deal with in the streets at the moment, though it would be useful to consider what, if any, impact the protests will have on Tehran’s ventures abroad. From its involvement in Syria and Yemen, to the regional confrontation with Saudi Arabia, Iran has been very active. Will that continue to be the case if the internal situation at home deteriorates?
Almost four years after the Maidan revolution swept Viktor Yushchenko and his regime from power, Ukraine is in the midst of another bout of political turmoil. Protesters have taken to the streets chanting “Bandits Out!” and protester tents have returned to Maidan Square. This time around, the scope of the protests is smaller than four years ago, but the target of the growing dissent is essentially the same: Government graft.
The current political drama’s impetus is Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia. He entered Ukrainian politics after Maidan to help combat corruption. He served as governor of the Odessa region before a falling out between him and his longtime friend, Ukraine’s current president Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili resigned from his post in 2016 and publicly accused Poroshenko of corruption and blocking reforms. Poroshenko responded in July by stripping him of his Ukrainian citizenship, opening the door for his potential deportation back to Georgia where Saakashvili is wanted on fraud charges. With the help of supporters, Saakashvili made his way back into the country late Sunday. Earlier this week, he held a rally in Kiev where he called for Poroshenko to be impeached. Two days later, he was arrested by security service agents, but a large crowd of his supporters blocked the van carrying him and freed him from government custody. Late on Friday, Saakashvili was arrested again and taken into custody, prompting crowds of his supporters to gather outside of the detention center where he is being held.
The draconian manner in which Poroshenko is handling this challenge to his position reveals the grim reality that the primary demand of Maidan has yet to be realized. Corruption is still prevalent, and the Oligarchic system remains in place. This situation would be bad enough even under peacetime conditions, however, the fact that Ukraine is mired in a nearly four-year long war against Russian-supported separatists exacerbates matters. The West has done little to assist in the corruption fight since Maidan, focusing its efforts on military and diplomatic assistance instead. Now, even those efforts have diminished. Europe is suffering from ‘Ukraine burn-out’ and the United States has still not adopted a thorough Ukraine policy. It was hoped that the Trump administration would make it a priority, but that has yet happen.
The turmoil in Ukraine could provide Russia with a window of opportunity as well. It is likely that right now in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin and his advisers are looking at the situation and working on a way to turn it to Russia’s advantage. The war in Ukraine has dragged on in stalemate for quite some time. Putin has been patiently awaiting the time when favorable circumstances could permanently change that.
That moment could very well be now.