Turmoil in the Caribbean is a tightrope walk for Biden | free press


Washington (dpa) – “Close to home” is what you call in English something that touches you directly. For US President Joe Biden, the recent crises in the Caribbean states of Cuba and Haiti are “close to home” in two respects.

On the one hand, both countries are geographically very close to the US. And because they are located in America’s proverbial backyard, or traditional sphere of influence, events there also affect the US.

Both the chaos in Haiti after the president’s assassination and the rare mass protests in Cuba against the authoritarian government require the US president to respond in one way or another. Help, yes or no? And if so, how?

Haiti and Cuba represent a dilemma for Biden in which he can do a lot wrong and a little right. And the attitudes of the governments of the two neighboring countries towards a possible US intervention could hardly be more different.

Call for help from Haiti

Actually, the US foreign policy music is currently playing elsewhere – much further afield. Above all, there is the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which America is concerned about. Biden just announced the end of the mission to the people of the country in a speech. The day before, Jovenel Moïse was shot dead at his home near Port-au-Prince. A Haitian doctor living in the US is said to have ordered the murder by Colombian mercenaries to become president of his poor homeland.

The Haitian government has asked for help – and asked the former occupying power, the US, to send troops. But US troops in Haiti – that has not improved the situation in the past, maybe even made it worse.

“If Haiti just quietly sink in the Caribbean or soar 300 feet into the air, that would be pretty irrelevant to our interests,” Biden said in a 1994 TV interview — when he was a senator from Delaware. The 78-year-old Democrat can no longer afford this indifference to the state, which is just over 1,000 miles from Florida.

Haiti, the poorest country in the American continent, threatens to sink even deeper into a humanitarian crisis due to political chaos and gang violence. But a large part of the Haitian population no longer wants foreign interference despite the precarious situation.

Serious allegations against blue helmets

The US occupied Haiti for 19 years after the most recent assassination of a sitting Haitian president in 1915. Even after a coup in 2004, US soldiers joined with UN peacekeepers to calm the situation. The peacekeepers of the UN stabilization mission Minustah caused a cholera outbreak and were charged with numerous sex crimes. The average Haitians have also seen little of the large amount of money pledged from abroad for reconstruction after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

“Many people don’t want another invasion of Haiti because of the past,” Haitian journalist Widlore Mérancourt said in the podcast Pod Save the World. You don’t have to go far back in time. According to many, the unpopular Moise was in power only because the US supported him – despite allegations of corruption and gang ties.

“It is time for the international community to sit down and listen to civil society,” Mérancourt was quoted as saying by a lawyer he spoke to who spoke on behalf of many.

Biden has now also made it clear: “The idea of ​​sending US troops to Haiti is not currently on the agenda.” If Haiti continues to plunge into disaster, Biden can expect the United States to be made co-responsible.

Any US statement is considered evidence of interference

Also in Cuba – which is only 150 kilometers away – the US has to pull a tightrope. The Bay of Pigs and other attempts by the US to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cold War government have not been forgotten there. Every utterance and gesture – however well-intentioned – is cited by the government as evidence of US interference. The leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba — the only party allowed there — depicts the protesters as troublemakers paid by the United States to divide Cuban society.

The proverbial elephant in the room is the US embargo on Cuba. The United States first imposed an arms embargo on Cuba in 1958. After the revolution of 1959, when property was nationalized by American companies, more and more restrictions on trade were added from 1960 onwards. Every year, the UN General Assembly almost unanimously condemns the embargo. If Biden really cares about the well-being of Cubans, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has said over and over these days, then he would end the US blockade of Cuba. The embargo can only be lifted completely by the US Congress.

Opponents of the Cuban government emphasize that their protest is against the oppression and economics of scarcity of the “dictatorship”, not the effects of the embargo. “The US has nothing to do with it,” Youtuber Dina Stars told Spanish TV channel Cuatro, shortly before she was arrested during an ongoing interview.

There are voices in the US – such as that of influential leftist MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – calling for the embargo to be lifted. Given the party’s election prospects in Florida, where many Cubans live in exile, it is highly unlikely that many Democrats in Congress will campaign for it. However, there are other ways to help the Cubans – the US government could lift the restrictions on sending money to the island that came into effect last year – many Cubans depend on money transfers from their relatives. Biden has ruled that out for now.

The Cuba conflict has already reached the US

During his presidential campaign, Biden announced that he would revoke such sanctions imposed on Cuba by then-US President Donald Trump and return to rapprochement under his predecessor Barack Obama — nothing has happened to this day. “Cuban policy change (…) is not one of the president’s top foreign policy priorities right now,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in April. That should have changed now.

Also because the conflict has already reached the United States. Cubans in exile protested in Florida last week, blocking highways. They demand that Biden support the protesters in Cuba. Cuba is a “failed state” and communism is a “failed system,” Biden said recently. But what does that mean for tackling the crisis in which Biden is being pressured from multiple sides?

“Progressives should understand that nothing is remotely ‘progressive’ about Cuba’s brutal, repressive, neo-Stalinist government,” the Washington Post wrote in a recent commentary. “And the conservatives need to understand that six decades of embargoes, sanctions and relentless hostility have been a total, stark, counterproductive failure.” Showing solidarity with the Cuban people would frighten Díaz-Canel far more than new sanctions.

Biden has already taken the first steps towards solidarity – albeit without taking any apparent action so far. He has openly shown that he – under certain conditions – sends corona vaccine to Cuba. And he wants to see if the United States can somehow get the government-blocked internet working again, Biden says. But first see how this can be done at all.