World Review: A president assassinated, a president suing, a president withdrawing and Covid soaring

In this weekend’s review, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms talks of events in Haiti, a basket case of a country whose presidents tend to come to an untimely end, including this week President Moise.

Joe Biden is continuing to withdraw from Afghanistan. Donald Trump is suing Facebook. Both difficult strategies.

The delta variant of Covid-19 is causing cases to rise rapidly around the world, especially in countries with low levels of vaccination. Vaccinating Africa must become a priority to save lives in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

Joe Biden is wrong and right. He is wrong to think that the Afghan Security forces can hold off the Taliban. He is right to think that the US and its allies cannot stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Which means that the home-grown Taliban only had to wait until America tired of fighting before launching their offensive. And as America turned out the lights at Bagram Air base, that is just what it did. In one week, it has gained about a dozen new districts, including the Western capital city of Qala-i-Naw and most of the border crossings with Iran. It now claims firm control of 25 percent of the country with assets almost everywhere else.

The problem NATO faced from the start was that it had no exit strategy. Its budget was huge, but finite. Its domestic political base supporting the war shrunk with the passage of time and it never successfully developed a political support system in Afghanistan. Its opponents, on the other hand, required little money or even manpower. They were fighting a religious war and their supply lines were measured in feet. Most important of all they were fighting to protect their homes, families, religion and way of life. The US, they argued, sought to impose foreign values. When the US has fought a clearly defined aggressor nation with a clear exit strategy—World War I, World War II, The First Gulf War—it won conclusively. When the US has invaded another country to remove a threat to its interests by imposing its values it has failed. What is the lesson?

Donald Trump is suing Facebook. He has also set his legal Rottweilers loose on Twitter and Google. The social media giants have had the effrontery to ban his incendiary tweets/comments on their sites. On the face of it, the suit seems frivolous in the extreme. But like most things, it is not quite that simple. One thing that American courts have steadfastly protected are the freedom of speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment. When newspapers have published confidential government documents and been threatened with treason charges, the courts and their interpretation of the First Amendment have protected them.

Of course, the difference between Trump’s case and that of the past media cases is that Trump is using the First Amendment to protect lies while the media was protecting the truth. The question is whether the courts will see it that way or just rule that free speech is free speech. Should the courts become involved in deciding what is a lie and what is the truth? Should companies that claim they provide nothing more than a cyber wall then turn around and exercise editorial judgement? The failure of Trump’s suit is not the foregone conclusion some believe.

When Jovenel Moise took on the job of Haiti’s President he knew it was dangerous. After all, the country’s first president was assassinated after just a year in office. Another President was impaled on the railings surrounding the presidential palace and a third was chopped up and fed to the palace pigs. Haiti is a basket case. It was even before it became the first Black independent country in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. During the war of independence Napoleon’s General Rochambeau tried to break the spirit of the slave revolt by boiling thousands of self-liberated slaves in pots of boiling molasses. The Blacks matched outrage with outrage and set the tone for Haitian politics for the next 200-plus years. Haiti is the crime capital of the Western Hemisphere. Police are reluctant to issue official figures because many of them involve corrupt policemen. It ranks 157 out of 184 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. It is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Per capita income is $1,149. It was financially hamstrung from birth as France successfully demanded reparations which today would be valued at $20 billion. The debt was not paid off until 1947. The country’s early years also were hampered by its giant slave-owning northern neighbour – the United States –  which in the 20th century repeatedly invaded and occupied the Caribbean country. But the biggest blow was the 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 300,000 of the country’s 10.4 million people and destroyed the already creaking infrastructure. It has not recovered. Moise was not a popular leader. The last year has been marked by a rising crime rate and demonstrations calling for his removal from power. But he was the only president Haitians had and was thus a symbol of their political independence. His murder – apparently by foreign mercenaries – is another insult and disaster for an oft-insulted and disaster-prone country.

Britain, Europe and the US are crawling out of Covid lockdown and returning to normalcy. The number of the cases is increasing but the success of the vaccine programme means that hospitalisations and deaths are dropping fast. Not so the rest of the world. Australia shunned the vaccine for tough border controls. Unfortunately, the highly-transmissible Delta Variant entered as an illegal immigrant and cases soared. Bangladesh, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and even parts of China are experiencing a fresh wave of Delta-driven cases. In Japan, the Olympic games will be staged in empty stadiums because of coronavirus. But brace yourselves. The worst is yet to come—in Africa. The World Health Organisation reported this week that new cases are doubling every day and the continent’s inadequate health infrastructure is collapsing under the strain. Up until now Africa seemed relatively immune, possibly because of most countries low average age. But the Delta variant attacks young and old. Covax—the international vaccine distribution system—has commenced delivery of the vaccine, but so far only two percent of Africans have been jabbed. Covax has 521 million doses which seems a lot, but it falls way short of enough. Two doses are required for the population of 1.288 billion. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Covid will continue to mutate. It has gone through at least three versions in less than a year. Who knows what variant will emerge from the hot and humid African jungles and how effective the vaccines will be against it as a new variant heads north to Europe and America and Asia? Vaccinating Africa must become a priority to save lives in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor, author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain” and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems

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2 Comments

  • The assassination of Haiti’s president in yet another tragic incident in this country torn by gang violence and natural disasters.
    As a former colony that was inspired by the American and French revolutions to establish an independent republic it is deserving of some better fortune and aid going forward.
    It’s problems stem from its troubled history, endemic corruption and a split of the Island of Hispaniola between Haiti and the Dominican republic. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, while the Dominican Republic is a tourist hotspot and one of the fastest-growing economies in the Caribbean https://historyofyesterday.com/a-tale-of-two-islands-haiti-and-the-dominican-republic-b875a9bd0db
    The island has the largest economy in the Greater Antilles, however most of the economic development is found in the Dominican Republic, the Dominican economy being nearly 800% larger than the Haitian economy. As of 2018, the estimated annual per capita income was US$868 in Haiti and US$8,050 in Dominican Republic.

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