There are few countries in the world that I’ve been to quite like Haiti. Frankly, it’s a nation that both fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure. It really does beggar belief that such a place exists an hour-and-a-half’s flight time from glittering Miami, and less than three hours from New York City.
As the books and experts will attest to, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and the worlds least developed outside of Africa and believe me does it show.
A nation born out of slavery, its people fought bravely for their independence and as with the history of any nation there have been good guys and bad, even if Haiti seems to have had a surplus of the latter.
Among the heroes, perhaps the most famous was former slave and stable boy Toussaint L’Ouverture, the man dubbed the ‘Black Jacobin,’ who in the late 1700’s led the revolt that paved the way for Haiti’s independence from French colonial rule.
Then there were the villains. Haiti’s ‘big men’ of which sadly there has never been a shortage. For the best part of three decades from the 50’s to the 70’s Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and his son and heir Jean Claude “Baby Doc,” ruled with a wickedness worthy of the worst demons from Haitian voodoo mythology.
When I first went there in 2004, another generation of ‘big men’ was battling for political supremacy. On the one side were supporters of the then rebel leader, Guy Phillipe, on the other, priest-turned-president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was soon to be ousted of course, but almost ever since then Haiti has remained in turmoil.
Last Wednesday marked another bloody chapter with the killing of President Jovenel Moise after a heavily armed group of trained killers or “mercenaries” brazenly stormed his home gaining entry after pretending to be agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
That two of the assassins turned out to be American citizens of Haitian origin and the other 26 were Colombians said to be ‘retired’ members of that country’s armed forces, has only added to the intrigue and speculation as to who masterminded the Moise assassination and their motives for doing so.
According to US and Canadian media one of the dual citizens arrested, James Solages is from Florida and was a former bodyguard at the Canadian embassy in Haiti.
The other has been named as Joseph Vincent of Miami, and both claim to have only been translators for the mercenaries, after finding the job on the internet.
Certainly, President Moise has no shortage of opponents and enemies. He might have come into office pledging a crackdown on corruption, but few have seen little evidence of that. This in part is what has driven ordinary Haitians onto the streets in protests these past years, angered and feeling powerless when confronted with this ongoing legacy of corruption and misgovernment.
Moise a former banana exporter took office in 2017 but let parliament’s term expire last year leaving Haiti’s population of 11 million people with only himself and 10 senators running the country. Moise has in effect increasing ruled by decree while letting the country slip into near anarchy where rival gangs from the capital’s slums often in collaboration with corrupt police and organised crime, call the shots.
Last month, one of Haiti’s most prominent gang leaders publicly declared a war against the country’s traditional elites, calling on citizens to raid established businesses.
“It is your money which is in banks, stores, supermarkets and dealerships,” the gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, better known by his alias Barbecue, said in a video message on social media. “Go and get what is rightfully yours.”
Moise’s assassination however was no spur of the moment event or one undertaken by an angry mob but instead calculated and professionally carried out. Just who instigated it remains for now at least something of a mystery.
What is more certain though is that Haiti’s power vacuum remains given that former prime minister Claude Joseph and the newly appointed PM Ariel Henry, who was appointed just before the President’s death are now vying for power.
But it’s those standing in the wings that need watching right now, those organised crime bosses and their ever more powerful gangs. It’s they who might just be readying themselves for a ‘revolution’ of their own.
AFGHANISTAN: Biden might yet regret pull out decision
On the face of it it’s hard to disagree with US President Joe Biden’s thinking on Afghanistan.
Why should America send another generation of its men and women into this “graveyard of empires” with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome?
As Biden’s sees it America didn’t go into Afghanistan to “nation build” but to hunt down Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11 2001 attacks and to weaken the Islamist inspired terrorist network that posed a transnational threat including to the US mainland.
Yes, there is also a degree of truth too in Biden’s insistence that it should now fall to the Afghan people to decide their future. But let’s just pause for a moment and consider these factors that have shaped Washington’s thinking, for perhaps it’s not quite so clear cut and done and dusted as Biden’s administration would like America and the rest of the world to think.
To begin with while Bin Laden might be dead, al-Qaeda is still very much around.
So too are their jihadist rivals the Islamic State (IS) group who though routed from its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria has now set up active hubs in Afghanistan among other places.
Even more significantly perhaps, the Taliban, the Afghan and Pakistan based insurgents that willing hosted al-Qaeda, are now firmly in control of swathes of territory including almost a quarter of all districts across Afghanistan while laying siege to several provincial capitals.
Should they succeed in taking complete control or if the country is pitched into even more instability through a wider civil war, who is to say that the Taliban will not once again become willing hosts and provide a sanctuary and base to jihadist networks and activists from across the world?
Only last week as news of the Taliban’s latest rapid military gains broke, Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI6 warned that while western forces had placed IS and al-Qaeda on the back foot during years of operations in the region, the groups still had the capacity to regenerate. Younger also pointed out that America along with the rest of the international community never really had a proper “political plan,’ for Afghanistan beyond getting rid of Bin Laden and his cadres.
The US led coalition should not make the same mistake too Younger rightly added in neglecting and abandoning Afghanistan and its people they way they did after Afghan resistance served the purpose of giving the Communists a bloody nose in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion.
When Joe Biden says that it should now fall to the Afghan people to decide their future, what this really means is that it falls to them to decide whether to continue fighting the Taliban or not. That’s not really much of an option for a better future, not just because Afghans have already sacrificed twenty years doing just that, but more pressingly because other outside players like Pakistan, will continue to stoke a situation that determines what happens next in Afghanistan.
SOUTH AFRICA: ANC emerges from Zuma’s shadow
In recent years former South African president Jacob Zuma has been a controversial figure. With hindsight perhaps its’s easy now to identify how the culture of impunity under which he governed existed long before he came into office.
That time back in 2009 when state prosecutors threw out charges that he took bribes in a 1990’s arm deal immediately springs to mind, but there were many other instances that followed.
Last Thursday however South Africa’s highest court decided to draw a line under Zuma’s flagrant abuse of the political system of which he has been part for so long. He now faces a 15- month sentence for defying a constitutional court order to appear at an inquiry into corruption. The court’s decision comes after nearly three years of investigation started in 2018 known as the Commission on State Capture that unearthed a network of graft around Zuma
This is an important moment in South Africa not least for the African National Congress (ANC) that has so dominated the country’s politics for years.
During Zuma’s nine-year tenure, the ANC became overwhelmed by corruption scandals that tarnished its image and stoked public outrage over mismanagement. In total, an estimated $33 billion was siphoned from state coffers during Zuma’s time in office. In effect his rule hindered not only the economic development but the necessary social reforms for South Africa to move on from its painful apartheid past.
It was back in 2018 too that the ANC finally ousted Zuma but since then it has lived under the shadow of “state capture” the buzzword in South Africa, that describes how institutions were all but systematically pillaged under his rule.
Though Zuma could be eligible for parole in months this does not take away from a sentencing decision that sends out a powerful message that no one is above the law.
For Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa especially, it indicates that he is serious about cleaning up the ANC even if this is still seen by many as only a start in a party riven by factions and in some cases still hardwired into Zuma style patronage politics.
“Zuma’s shadow will be with the ANC for some time because he remade the ANC in his image. It is going to take a lot to undo that” was how Sithembile Mbete, a political scientist at the University of Pretoria summed up the challenge Ramaphosa now faces.
BULGARIA: Election in a “mafia state’
Bulgaria in many ways has been an unpredictable place of late. Last month of course there was the surreal moment when US troops accidentally stormed a small sunflower oil factory during part of a NATO military exercise which subsequently led to the owner filing a lawsuit.
On the political front too, there have been several surprises and today voters head to the polls for a second parliamentary election in three months that could also turn up the unexpected.
An early vote was called after the April 4 vote resulted in a hung parliament, with the governing long-term ruling centre-right, GERB party of conservative former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov failing to secure enough support to form a new cabinet.
As the country today votes again and in keeping with its recent reputation for the unexpected, pre-election polls showed GERB almost tied with There is Such a People (ITN), the party that came second in the April vote and is headed by popular talk show host and showman Slavi Trifonov.
Rising support for ITN and other protests parties have given them a fighting chance of forming a functioning government, although opinion polls suggest the three are not likely to gain a parliamentary majority.
The election showing of these protest parties has been bolstered amid public anger over widespread graft. Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union, has a long history of corruption. A streak of scandals coming to light in recent months has dominated public debate and election campaigning.
“The country’s dizzying daily headlines feel more like plotlines from a hit mafia series on Netflix than actual events unfolding in a European Union member country ahead of an election on July 11,” observed one journalist in the online magazine Politico recently.
Such is the scale and level of the abuse that even Washington has become embroiled. This month the Biden administration moved to blacklist several powerful oligarchs and dozens of companies in what the US Treasury described as “the single largest action targeting corruption to date” anywhere in the world under the Magnitsky Act that allows sanction to be imposed.
The question now is whether the Bulgarian electorate themselves feel sufficiently outraged to bring about change in an election one commentator described as taking place in a “mafia state.”
As I write, GERB and There is Such a People are both polling at about 20 percent making it a tight race to call. But the smart ‘clean’ money is on this being the moment when Bulgarians say enough is enough of the old guard.