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Watching America’s democracy from Haiti

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On the first Wednesday of the new year, the world was shocked as protestors broke into the U.S. Capitol in Washington. This was the first breach of the Capitol building in over 200 years. The significance of this riot in a country that is a bastion for democracy cannot be denied, and global media coverage and interest followed accordingly. Yet, for many Haitians these events felt remarkably familiar.

America’s TV commentators made vague references likening the events in Washington to contexts across the globe, “banana republics” with authoritarian regimes. Parallels drawn – correctly or not – were mostly with non-democratic countries. But the most fitting parallel would be Haiti, America’s neighbour to the South and fellow electoral democracy. In 2019, its own legislature was attacked – one in a series of chaotic assaults to our democratic institutions.

Since ending dictatorship in 1986,our democratic structures and practices have been deeply flawed. Riots have become standard practice when political groups disagree with government policies, and we’ve seen mobs storm our cities to demand the resignation of the elected President.

Democracy is something to be protected and strengthened, it is not assured, and it is not a catch-all. Recent circumstances in the U.S. have brought to the fore greater recognition that it is a highly nuanced system of governance which needs to be constructed in a way to ensure its continued success and survival. American democracy is defined by fundamental principles of the rule of law, representative government and equality, outlined in the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Constitution divides the federal government into three co-equal branches: the legislative, executive and judicial, ensuring a balance of power and response to actions of the other branches. This original construct, despite challenges of late, have proven out. Unlike in the U.S., the Haitian Constitution creates an imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches, causing unending dysfunction. Because of this, since 1987 Haiti has seen 25 Prime Ministers come and go, and five Presidents have been constrained to govern the country by executive order without a parliament because required legislative elections did not take place on time. Apart from bringing the country to a recurring deadlock, our Constitution effectively undermines its own democratic ambitions.

As Americans take stock of their democracy, so too do we in Haiti. Earlier this year, a process began to break the cycle of instability and political violence: reforming the Constitution. If accomplished, this will finally provide a framework for a functioning representative democracy. President Jovenel Moïse has set the wheels in motion, assigning an independent advisory committee to produce a draft new Constitution that places the rights of citizens at its centre. The executive branch will be strengthened, meaning that a small minority in the legislature will not be able to stall the political process, and legislative elections will be held on time. The people once again will have a say in who their elected leaders are, and those leaders will have a real chance to deliver for the public that elects them in what currently remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The new Constitution will be the people’s constitution. It will be put forward for consultation with representation from a wide range of civil society and political organizations. Then, it will be put to a vote in a national referendum. The updated Constitution, as envisioned, will set a new precedent for democratic governance in Haiti.

2021 has the potential to be a brighter year, a page turned, for two important democracies – the first two republics of the Americas, in fact – the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, and Haiti, the world’s first Black republic.

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Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now?

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“Day of fire”. That’s how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the Capitol insurrection, which happens to be the exact same phrase President George W. Bush used on the occasion of 9/11. That is not coincidental. But why won’t the FBI draw 9/11 parallels now?

In spring last year, when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, in a leaked memo to the New York Times, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich was quoted in a reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests. Bowdich maintained that the protesters should be arrested under an outdated racketeering law from the 1940s. The leaked memo showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lightly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers. Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now, when it comes to far-right actual terrorism? We are talking about plans to blow up buildings and assassinate law-makers.

There is evidence appearing now through the courts that the Trump mob indeed intended to capture and assassinate congressmen. A new court filing by federal prosecutors says that Trump supporters intended to “capture and assassinate” elected officials during the Capitol riot.

The FBI has a misplaced terrorism obsession with the progressive left, while lightly ignoring the far-right, which is by far the more violent and much more organized group. The Capitol events security mishandling demonstrated a different attitude when it comes to the latter group.

There is a difference between street clashes with police in social justice protests that have gone overboard and have turned violent, on one hand, and placing bombs at political buildings, plans to kidnap and assassinate politicians, and violent usurping of the certification of a democratically elected president. The difference should be obvious, and yet the FBI is pursuing its obsession with the left voices, largely ignoring the violent extremists and the real violent terrorism threat on the far right, as recently revealed by an Intercept investigation.

In a public statement, the FBI made sure that the public understood its own misguided standard used in the threat assessment in the Capitol attacks by the Trump mob, namely the aspirations vs intentions test. The FBI official explained that the FBI needs to consider that some online activity and planning by the far right could simply be “keyboard bravado”. So, “keyboard bravado” is now the new “locker room talk”.

It is not surprising that the FBI uses different standards to assess the threat on the far-left and on the far-right. Former FBI director Hoover called Martin Luther King “one of the most dangerous negroes in America”. MLK was far from a hero for the FBI. It is not uncommon for the FBI even today to mischaracterize center-left voices of reasonable progressives who are anti-violence, pro-rights and pro-equality as far-left anarchists and communists, magnifying the threat on the left while ignoring the bigger threat on the right. Calling reasonable center-left Democrats anarchists and communists is a classical President Putin move. Let’s recall that ahead of the presidential elections in November, Russian President Putin endorsed Biden and the Democrats as communists whom we would get along with, in order to discredit them.

Let’s look at the actions and the security measures present around the two types of crowds. In a recent interview I wondered why FBI deputy director Bowdich won’t evoke 9/11 now in relation to far-right terrorism, in the context of the methods that the FBI sometimes uses to suppress and deal with progressive voices.

The FBI have opened mow many cases for “domestic terrorism” into the Capitol attack and it is true that they are saying that they are treating these cases as “international terrorism” but where is the FBI public condemnation of terrorism? We have not seen public statements by the FBI director Christopher Wray and FBI deputy director David Bowdich. Why won’t Bowdich come out and evoke 9/11 now, just like he did with the Black Lives Matter movement?

America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has led the country into a downward spiral. I myself just launched a $1 UN lawsuit against the Trump circle at the UN, in attempt to clear the Trump circle also from the UN.

The capitol events were an embarrassment for the FBI who failed the due diligence standard of the reasonably expected measures that should have been taken in a similar situation because they were dealing with the President’s supporters. Then, the FBI decided to justify their inaction with the false “keyboard bravado” explanation, which does not explain anything.

The FBI are now running social media campaigns for the collection of evidence on suspects in the Capitol attacks but the truth is that the FBI does not need random people to phone them and point them to the bad guys. The FBI follow these groups and people, they know everything. It’s just a question of choice as to when to bring out the collected over time evidence. The FBI is in a hurry now only because there is public and social pressure to do something. All of America is watching what will happen to the bad guys.

A couple of days ahead of the Capitol events, I noted on Twitter that Homeland Security acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, was on a trip to Cyprus, while America was “burning”.  The Cyprus frictions in the European Mediterranean seem like a holiday now, in comparison to the Capitol events. Several days later, Wolf resigned.

With the news that President Trump intends to issue over 100 new pardons during his last two days in office, the question of justice for the Capitol events is as relevant as ever, as it is reasonably expected that some of the pardons could relate to the Capitol attacks.

It is safe to say that former Attorney General Bill Barr is not missed by many people. The Trump supporters’ cases would not have received fair treatment at the Department of Justice under his watch. The new Attorney General in the Biden Administration, judge Merrick Garland, in fact, might discover that many cases from the Bill Barr time will have to be reopened.

The top security priority now is President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, while Trump holds a separate rally. The Capitol events served as a warning.

Looking forward, it is time for American democracy to demonstrate its elasticity. And legal justice necessarily has to be a part of that, ignoring phony calls for “unity” and “healing” made by the criminals themselves who are trying to escape justice now.  There can’t be unity without ensuring justice first.

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Latin America and China: The difficulties in relations and Covid-19

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The relations between China and Latin America have developed positively, but some problems and challenges are also being faced. Firstly, the intensified strategic and economic competition between China and the United States has increased the negative impact on the relations between China and Latin America. Trump’s Administration already used zero-sum competition and Cold War mentality to mark Sino-U.S. relations, believing that China’s rise in Latin America could upset the U.S. order in the Western Hemisphere.

Back in February 2018, during a visit to Latin America the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that China was using its economic influence to bring Latin America into its sphere of influence, and criticised it as seeking a new imperial power for its geopolitical expansion.

In 2018, Rand Corporation published the 400-page report At the Dawn of Belt and Road. China in the Developing World. The report pointed out that China’s contacts in Latin America and its geopolitical advantages held back the U.S. presence in the region.

Specifically, the report explored China’s economic, political and security roles in Southeast Asia, Oceania, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report also analysed China’s bilateral relations with key States in each region. Finally, it dealt with the negative consequences of the Chinese strategy towards developing countries for the United States. Therefore, it maintained that strategists and decision-makers in the Armed Forces, and all U.S. military staff, needed to focus on China and anyone interested in developing international relations with that country. An attitude of threat not only towards China.

Another factor preventing – at least apparently – the development of China-Latin America relations is the retreat of Progressives and the advance of Conservatives in the landscape of political change in the Subcontinent: this poses a challenge to the development of mutual relations.

2017 and 2018 were general election years in thirteen Latin American countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries, the old traditional and left-wing parties lost elections. Therefore, Latin America is divided into two camps: one is the left-wing one represented by Cuba and Venezuela, and the other is the right-wing camp composed of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Conversely, the fast development of China-Latin America relations from 2003 to 2013 was favoured by the political atmosphere of the left-wing camp. Currently, however, the transition from the Left to the Right tells us that some countries rely on the United States in terms of development projects and ideologies. Therefore, the political transition has become an additional challenge for the development of relations between China and Latin America.

Another crisis point is the impact of the pandemic. Here are some data regarding the Covid-19 cases until January 17, 2021:

Latin America: 16,753,447

North America: 23,091,187 (USA: 22,423,006; Canada: 668,181)

Europe: 28,291,217

Asia: 18,549,010

Africa: 3,059,974

Oceania: 56,556

Latin American countries record relatively high urbanisation rates, with peaks of 70-80%. Large cities are very densely populated, with a high percentage of informal employment and weak national control abilities, which create the conditions for the spread of Covid-19.

On the other hand, the United States-which is the worst affected country in the American Continent – has increased the repatriation of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries for reasons of epidemic prevention and control, thus further aggravating the situation in these already disadvantaged countries.

Why is the pandemic in Brazil so severe? The indifference of President Bolsonaro’s government towards the epidemic, as well as ineffective measures and omissions in control are the main reasons for the spread of the epidemic in Brazil. The first case was discovered in Brazil on March 12, 2020 and the epidemic soon began to spread throughout the country, which currently records 8,131,612 cases and 203,580 deaths.

Brazil’s former Health Minister, Nelson Teich, advocated isolation, but Bolsonaro’s philosophy is different. He believes that imposing quarantine curbs economic development. Health Minister Teichresigned. The new Minister is Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who has no medical training and no experience in managing public health disasters.

An official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health said that the number of people infected by the pandemic is officially eight million, but it has actually exceeded ten million. This unprecedented public health crisis has triggered economic recession and could lead to new social unrest. These are all new challenges.

The impact of Covid-19 on the entire Latin American region is very severe. According to the World Bank statistics, it has been the most severe crisis ever since the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s. The blow to the region is reflected mainly in four aspects:

1) exports have declined.

2) The prices of raw materials have fallen. Due to reduced demand, prices have inevitably fallen. Recently, everyone has seen a drop in copper prices, especially as Peru and Chile, the copper mining centres of the world, have been forced to close their mines due to the impact of the pandemic.

3) Tourism has collapsed. Latin America is a kind of cultural-exotic attraction for North Americans and Europeans. With Covid-19, there is no way for tourism and passenger transport to go back to the traditional levels of normalcy.

4) The inflow of remittances has decreased significantly. They are one of the main driving forces for economic development in the area, especially in regions like Central America and countries like Mexico.

The Latin American immigrants working in the United States put aside the money they earn and send it to their families – a key source of income for Latin America. As the U.S. economy has been severely hit, also remittances have been significantly reduced, to the detriment of the entire subcontinent.

With specific reference to Covid-19, it should also be mentioned that on June 24, 2020, the U.S. Congress held a full-scale hearing and invited a number of U.S. experts to express their views.

Those experts included Robert Evan Ellis of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. One of the main points he made was that the U.S. government should strengthen its support for Latin American allies to prevent China from using ‘medical diplomacy’ to expand its sphere of influence in Latin America, along with advances in supply chains, strategic acquisitions and loans to troubled governments, while the West remains economically weakened and politically distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hence, in his view, the United States should resolutely stop China’s technological expansion in Latin America. This means that the United States should not acquire and share Chinese medical know-how.

Ultimately, the pandemic has not changed China’s goals or overall strategy. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for China to move forward with its implementation. With the help of the Chinese government’s controls on its population to impose and enforce quarantine, and thanks to its huge financial reserves and leverage on the economy, China is emerging from the crisis (albeit certainly weakened) ahead of most Western and non-Western countries.

The pandemic and its health, economic and other effects are likely to persist and continue to weaken the United States and Europe for some time. The interplay between partial economic reopening and the time needed to develop, test and massively produce a vaccine will extend this process.

In Latin America and in other less developed parts of the world, the situation is likely to be far worse. Less capable public health systems, large informal sectors, vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as limits to governments’ ability to borrow money to protect vulnerable populations, and the related economic sectors will put pressure on economies as they suffer from Western countries’ declining investment and demand for their exports. In China, on the other hand, things are being solved.

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Democracy Or What? – And Then Climate

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Most of us were appalled to see what happened in Washington a ten days ago when a ‘mob’, incited by Donald Trump’s address, stormed the Capitol building to prevent the presentation of Joe Biden as the next President. He gave voice to a possible fraudulent (in his mind) election, by putting suspicion on the postal ballot long before the election took place, and tried to ‘engineer’ the ballot by putting his ‘own’ man in control of it. He tried to manipulate the Supreme Court by replacing vacancies with people he expected to follow his lead and must have been disappointed, if not shocked, to find that the court unanimously rejected his claim that the votes had been rigged and should be thrown out. His unruly term of office saw the greatest turnover of people of any previous presidential term as staff could only hack the unusual behaviour of a disordered mind for so long. And so on and on. Much will be written about the 4-year aberration that was Donald Trump. On a lighter note, his escapades in golf have given rise to a book, ‘Commander in Cheat’!

Concerned people have written and spoken about the state of democracy today. Those of us who have spent some time stateside appreciate the immensity of the country, how one is made welcome, but also the prejudices that one finds and the general unknowing of the world we live in by large swathes of the population. Some are still steeped in attitudes that pre-date the civil war. Donald Trump played to all of those and gave them voice. That is a big challenge facing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to get America back on track and if not ‘great again’ to stand up and join the rest of us and share and appreciate that there are billions of other people that are working away with hopes and dreams and looked to the US as a beacon.

That should be the meaning of ‘great again’, and if they can look up and truly be the land of the free and welcome the weak and downtrodden who are fleeing war and violence, as was once the way, then we can say that once more ‘you have earned the right to be the leader of democracy’, and democracy, for all its imperfections, is still the least bad form of government. It is well that the US re-joins the world as totalitarianism, in all its forms and at all levels, is on the rise again. Countries that espouse democracy and heed its precepts need to speak up loudly and be heard once again.

In November of this year is the World Climate Meeting, COP21, in Glasgow, Scotland at which the latest news on climate will be debated. Hopefully, the coronavirus will be on the decline and the US election will no longer be an issue. We can then get together on the one matter that should concentrate all our minds and separate the wheat from the chaff because there is some said that is wrong that muddies the waters, and leads the politicians to make incorrect decisions. But change is around us.

Climate is a highly complex issue, arguably the most complicated, that not all the modelling can get right, but study must go on. It is strange that it has only come to our notice since the population of the world over the past 60 years, has increased dramatically from approaching 3 billion to 8 billion. Mankind has thus significantly increased breeding himself, and thus his use of natural resources, for example cutting down trees, which need carbon dioxide to live, and vastly increased the pollution of the seas and the seas cover 70% of the planet. It has only been in comparatively recent times that we have started to pay attention to the seas and are alarmed at what we see.

However, we have the tools to put things right. We just need the will and ability to spend money wisely.

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