Haitian instability warrants U.S. concern
Haiti, a country within a region this column has yet to cover, has fallen into chaos in recent days.
President Jovenel Moise, according to the opposition, had his five-year term expire this month. The president himself though has refused to budge, and deployed police and military forces onto the street to push back against protesters. Alleged kidnappings have spiked, as the government seeks to restore order and flush out those who have led the protest.
The effectiveness and ability of the opposition movement to carry out a transfer of power, peaceful or forceful, looks bleak. It lacks any real political organization or a singular leader through which they can rule.
Additionally, the international community largely is in support of the Haitian central government, strengthening the political clout of the President. The United States, one of its supporters, likely fears further violence and potential civil war should the opposition attempt to make a transfer of power. Yet, the Haitian people have suffered mightily under the oppressive Moise regime.
According to Freedom House, a think tank, “the Haitian government struggles to meet the most basic needs of its citizens.” It’s freedom score by Freedom House has stood at just partially free for the past 4 years, owing to delayed elections and a mismanaged justice system.
Haiti’s struggles are not new. There has been instability ever since an earthquake rocked the country in 2010, killing 200,000 people. The country has largely failed to recover economically, with relics of the quake still present on the island.
The instability in Haiti is not one Biden is likely to give attention to; however, he very much should. Political volatility on the United States’ doorstep is never a good thing for an American president. One doesn’t have to look too far back in history to find a similar situation in Cuba in the 60’s. Though nuclear war is not a likely outcome, the invitation of Russia or even China into the region is very well a potential. Both countries have subsidized the failed Maduro regime (see below). China has been responsible for a spike in foreign investment in the Carribean region as of late. Money could be funneled to the Haitian government, through infrastructure projects on the island in exchange for political cooperation on the international stage.
Biden’s foreign policy team should make this an issue: losing a region only a few hundred miles off its coast to China would be a bad way to begin his term.
Colombian generosity to the rescue
In a global pandemic, national self-interest reigns supreme. Hence, grand humanitarian gestures have come few and far between, where even before the virus they were scarce. With a recent decision to allow nearly one million undocumented Venezuelan migrants legal asylum, Colombian President Iván Duque seems to have deprioritized national interest, and maybe even his own political future.
The Colombian-Venezuelan border roads have been backstopped with migrants trying to flee Venezuela for the past few years. In total, 5 million have fled the political tumult and economic collapse of President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist dictatorship. Nearly a third of whom have moved westward into neighboring Colombia, more than any other country by a large margin. Shuffling slowly across border bridges, for many the limbo of undocumented status awaits them on the other side.
Maduro won re-election in December, meaning the situation is unlikely to be resolved from its roots in Venezuela. So the mantle has dropped to Duque, who decided Feb. 8 to grant asylum to Venezuelans currently seeking refuge in the country. There is no more limbo.
While deserving of praise, it’s an uncharacteristic move for a right-wing populist who seems to lose clout on a domestic level. Workaday Colombians are angry with him. Many want the Venezuelan border closed longer-term for fear of shocks to the economy, therefore his action seems antithetical to a typical populist platform.
Often, the “they’re taking our jobs” claim is pure xenophobia. There is likely some of that among this dissenting bloc, but in fairness, the detriments to them are apparent. The sudden influx of migrant labor will indeed create intense competition for work in a country already dealing with an unemployment rate of 16%, induced primarily by the pandemic.
Initially, the popular belief was pro-migration. Largely because in the 1990s, Colombians fleeing violence were welcomed with open arms by their neighbors. Hence, they felt obligated to accept Venezuelan immigrants in reciprocation. Evidently, they now feel their dues are paid.
With a low approval rating, which would be further dwindled by granting asylum, the question raised to Duque is why. For one, humanitarian action is often taken by world leaders to pad their reputation on the world stage. In this area, Duque has most definitely succeeded: Head of the U.N. Refugee Agency Fillipo Grandi applauded Duque’s action as “historic” and “the most important humanitarian gesture” for decades. He may also be under pressure legally and morally to protect the status of these migrants.
Lastly, there is of course the possibility that Duque genuinely wants to help these migrants, but in modern politics, that answer is probably least likely.