Biden’s Caribbean surprises

Biden’s Caribbean surprises

All elected leaders face two problems: crises that weren't on the agenda will strike from unexpected directions, and all possible responses are less than ideal.

Hey, Joe Biden, Cuba's on line one, and Haiti's holding on line two.


What's happening?

In Cuba, COVID-exacerbated shortages of affordable food, medicine, liberty, and good government have triggered a startling surge of protests, the largest in decades, in cities across the island. The Cuban government has responded with pepper spray, handcuffs, internet cutoffs, accusations against Washington, and pleas for patience from Cuba's beleaguered people.

In Haiti, the shocking assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has created chaos in one of the world's poorest countries. Moïse had warned that unnamed oligarchs wanted him dead. For now, ambitious politicians and various criminal gangs are competing for power in Haiti, and fears of more violence are on the rise. Hundreds of Haitians, including children, have gathered outside the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince to beg for a ticket out of their country.

The US president faces intense pressure to act because these two countries are neighbors and there are large numbers of Cuban and Haitian Americans living in the United States. Both communities are concentrated in the politically crucial state of Florida.

What should Biden do about these crises?

Cuba options

As Barack Obama's vice president, Biden was a key foreign-policy player in an administration that wanted to ease a half-century of US isolation of Cuba. After all, Cuba's communists had survived the US policy of embargo, even after the Cold War's end left Cuba without its Soviet benefactor. If a policy hasn't worked in 50 years, try something else.

In March, dozens of Democratic Party lawmakers signed a letter which called on Biden to ease Trump administration restrictions on travel and the right of Cuban Americans to send money to family members living in Cuba, travel restrictions between Cuba and the US, and to offer medical aid to help Cubans survive COVID.

But if Biden eases economic pressures now, he'll be bailing out a communist dictatorship responsible for decades of repression and economic misery for ordinary Cubans. Republicans, led by Donald Trump and Florida Governor (and likely presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis have called on US companies to support Cuba's protesters, including by providing internet access into Cuba remotely. The US, they argue, must help Cubans risking arrest (or worse) for democracy and human rights to communicate with one another and the outside world.

Haiti options

Haiti's interim government, led by temporary Prime Minister Claude Joseph, wants the Biden administration to send US soldiers into Haiti to halt the risk of further violence, protect critical infrastructure, and safeguard the vote to replace the assassinated president. The White House says it's working with Joseph to hold elections as soon as possible, but Biden is deeply reluctant to inject US troops into this unstable situation. US soldiers can't bring democracy to Haiti any more than they could bring it to Afghanistan.

In addition to its political crisis, Haiti's government has not been able to provide its people with a single dose of COVID vaccine. This is an area the US can help. On Wednesday, the US delivered 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Haiti, and promised more will come. But without well-armed and well-trained soldiers to safeguard the process, vaccinations can be slowed by warring criminal gangs.

To the boats?

Another problem Biden must face: Whenever there's unrest in Cuba or Haiti, there's a risk that desperate people will climb into boats to attempt the dangerous crossing to Florida. It's both a humanitarian crisis and a political headache waiting to happen. Under both US and international law, asylum-seekers have a recognized right to file a claim no matter how they enter the country, but in the past, US officials have sometimes intercepted Cuban and Haitian boats before they enter US territory.

Biden's Homeland Security chief, himself the son of Cuban refugees, has made clear the administration's position: "If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States." Though motivated by a desire to prevent innocent people from drowning, that policy has been denounced as "shameful" by human rights advocates, who argue that Haitians fleeing violence and Cubans fleeing tyranny have very good cause to apply for asylum.

Bottom line: Joe Biden would rather think about infrastructure spending, vaccinations and job creation, but Cuba and Haiti will continue to have other ideas.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

More Show less

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted millions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

More Show less

American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

More Show less

"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

More Show less

700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

The history of disasters

GZERO World Clips

How booze helps get diplomacy done

GZERO World Clips
GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal