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Cuba, Haiti stir fresh political pressures for US president

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Cuba, Haiti stir fresh political pressures for US president
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Cuba, Haiti stir fresh political pressures for US president

They are two tiny Caribbean states whose intractable problems have vexed U.S. presidents for decades. Now, Haiti and Cuba are suddenly posing a growing challenge for President Joe Biden that could have political ramifications for him in the battleground state of Florida.

Cuban demonstrators have taken to the country’s streets in recent days to lash out at the communist government and protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Haiti, officials are asking the U.S. to intercede in a roiling political crisis after last week’s assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in a nation where military and humanitarian interventions by U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama have proved to be politically harrowing.

Biden is facing increased pressure from Republican lawmakers for his administration to step up support of Cuban demonstrators. And his aides have demonstrated determined caution in response to requests for more U.S. involvement in Haiti.

The administration has come under fire from both sides of the political spectrum for its responses to each of the crises, both unfolding less than two hours’ flying time from Miami. The troubled U.S. history in both countries has hardened positions, making virtually any policy decision politically unpalatable for a president seeking to toe a middle line.

In the background: How the Biden administration handles the crises looms large in electorally rich Florida.

Biden lost the state in 2016 to Donald Trump, as Republicans improved their performance while paying special attention to courting the state’s large Cuban American population and other immigrant voters, noted Susan MacManus, a Florida political analyst and professor emerita at the University of South Florida.

“The caution Biden is showing reflects the poor showing in 2020 and a desire not to repeat it,” said MacManus, who added that Haitian Americans are becoming a growing political force in South Florida. “Democrats learned in 2020 that country of origin is a much more powerful voting cue in Florida than historical voting affiliation, and Trump’s hammering on socialism proved to be an effective message.”

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Indeed, as the situations play out in Cuba and Haiti, Biden administration officials have responded cautiously.

The White House on Sunday dispatched representatives from the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House National Security Council to meet with Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Joseph Lambert, the head of its dismantled Senate, whom supporters have named as provisional president in a challenge to Joseph.

Cuba, Haiti stir fresh political pressures for US president

White House officials said Haiti’s request for the U.S. to deploy troops was under review. At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday he was not aware that the administration had rejected any request from Haitian officials but said the focus was on supporting the investigation into the assassination rather than providing military assistance.

U.S. officials have also made clear that the administration remains concerned about the infighting over who is rightfully Moïse’s successor in Haiti.

The White House is coordinating with Joseph in his capacity as acting prime minister, but is urging Haitian officials to work together to hold legislative and presidential elections as soon as feasibly possible.

Meanwhile, the White House said a review of its Cuba policy remains underway.

To be sure, U.S. efforts to press for regime change have had their fair share of failures over the years: the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, CIA-backed assassination attempts on Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and sanctions that inflicted pain but never produced the ultimate goal of ending communist rule.

“We’re going to be taking a close look at what has and has not worked in the past, and unfortunately in the case of Cuba, there may be more that has not worked than what has worked,” Price said.

This week, Cuban police have been out in force as President Miguel Díaz-Canel has accused Cuban Americans of using social media to spur a rare outpouring of weekend protests. The demonstrations in several cities and towns were some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment seen in years in tightly controlled Cuba, which is facing a surge of coronavirus cases as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

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There are political crosscurrents for Biden as he addresses both situations.

On Cuba, the political right in the U.S. has accused Biden — who said as a presidential candidate that he would revert to Obama-era policies that loosened decades of embargo restrictions on Havana — of not being supportive enough of Cuban dissidents.

Democrats, meanwhile, are unhappy that Biden has yet to reverse Trump’s hard-line approach to the island’s communist government as his administration carries out its review of Cuban policy.

Trump in a statement criticized Biden’s past promises to loosen restrictions on Cuba.

“Don’t forget that Biden and the Democrats campaigned on reversing my very tough stance on Cuba,” Trump said.

Florida Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a freshman lawmaker who represents a Miami district that Democrats are hoping to flip in next year’s midterm election, were among elected officials this week who called on the administration to maintain Trump’s Cuba policy.

They also called on Biden to aid the protesters, including by making free satellite internet access available on the island to subvert the Cuban government’s effort to stop activists from broadcasting their messages on social media to the world.

Gimenez said in an interview that simply maintaining the status quo is not enough at a moment when the island is seeing some of the most intense protests in more than 60 years — what Biden himself referred to as a “clarion call for freedom.”

Biden lost Florida by about double the margin by which Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton there in 2016.

Trump was helped in part by narrowing the Democrats’ margin of victory in population-rich Miami-Dade County by nearly 13 percentage points. Gimenez and another freshman lawmaker of Cuban descent, Maria Elvira Salazar, picked up Democratic-held seats as Trump and Republicans focused on courting Cuban Americans, an important voting bloc in the state.

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Cuba, Haiti stir fresh political pressures for US president

The majority of Cubans in Florida supported Trump over Biden, 58% to 41%, according to AP VoteCast. The margin was nearly reversed among other Hispanic voters in the state, who were more likely to support Biden than Trump, 59% to 40%.

“Biden is no fool,” said Gimenez. “It’s not just the Cuba issue, it’s the whole issue of socialism and communism and censorship that’s shifted the people of Miami-Dade over to the right. The problem that the president has is the extreme parts of his own party seem to be driving the agenda, and that he just can’t escape right now.”

White House spokesman Chris Meagher said Biden, dating back to his days in the Senate, has been a fierce critic of the Castro regime and is committed to Cuban human rights.

“He’s committed to forming his policies toward Cuba based on two principles: that standing up for democracy and human rights is paramount, and that Americans — especially Cuban Americans — are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba,” Meagher said.

Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, who served as a director of policy and interagency coordination in the Trump White House, said the situations in Cuba and Haiti offer Biden a chance to demonstrate his oft-repeated dictum that democracies can better service their people than autocracies as well as his preference for multilateral efforts to address big global problems.

“This is an administration that says that they believe in international organizations and that they believe in these multilateral bodies. If that’s the case, get our allies in the hemisphere together … and see how they can rally others can help out,” Diaz-Rosillo said.

APNEWS

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Taliban seize $12.4m from former top Afghan officials

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Taliban seize $12.4m from former top Afghan officials

Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled central bank said it had seized nearly $12.4 million in cash and gold from former top government officials on Wednesday, including former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

In a statement, the central bank said the money and gold had been kept in officials’ houses, although it did not yet know for what purpose.

Saleh’s whereabouts are unknown.

He has vowed to resist the Taliban, who stormed to power a month ago, and last week a family member said the Taliban had executed his brother Rohullah Azizi.

In a separate statement, the bank urged Afghans to use the country’s local Afghani currency. It comes amid growing worries that the country’s banks and firms are running short of money, especially dollars, which are widely used.

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Taliban seize $12.4m from former top Afghan officials

In a sign that the Taliban are looking to recoup assets belonging to former government officials, the central bank issued a circular to local banks last week asking them to freeze the accounts of politically exposed individuals linked to the previous government, two commercial bankers said.

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‘Okonjo-Iweala knows how to get things done,’ Prince Harry, Meghan praise WTO boss

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'Okonjo-Iweala knows how to get things done,' Prince Harry, Meghan praise WTO boss
Okonjo Iweala
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‘Okonjo-Iweala knows how to get things done,’ Prince Harry, Meghan praise WTO boss

The list of influential figures cut across icons, pioneers, titans, artists, leaders, and innovators.

American news magazine, Time, has named Nigeria’s former minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was named alongside world leaders like United States President, Joe Biden, and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in Time’s September 15 publication.

She tweeted moments after the publication that she was ‘honored and privileged’ to have made the cover of the magazine.

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In an appraisal penned by Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, they applauded her role in campaigning for equitable vaccine access across the world.

The Archewell founders noted that the world’s hope to defeat COVID-19 through vaccines rests on the shoulders of leaders like Okonjo-Iweala.

‘Okonjo-Iweala knows how to get things done,’ Prince Harry, Meghan praise WTO boss

“Our conversations with her have been as informative as they are energising.

“This is partly because, despite the challenges, she knows how to get things done—even between those who don’t always agree—and does so with grace and a smile that warms the coldest of rooms,” the Duke and Duchess wrote.

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Okonjo-Iweala made history in March when she officially started her tenure as the WTO DG, the first woman and first African to do so.

“Vaccine inequity is the most important issue to tackle right now in this pandemic because it determines how we’re going to recover globally, and how many lives we save.

“With the variants that are mutating and the number of people dying, it is unacceptable that when you have the technology to save lives, some people don’t have access,” the 67-year-old told Time.

Wednesday’s list also had names of leaders like U.S. vice president, Kamala Harris, Indian president, Narendra Modi, as well as influential figures like Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Dolly Parton, and the Duke and Duchess themselves.

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The list of influential figures cut across icons, pioneers, titans, artists, leaders, and innovators.

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Vicious ISWAP Leader, Al-barnawi, Killed

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Vicious ISWAP Leader, Al-barnawi, Killed

• How he succeeded his father, B/Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf
• Led terrorists’ onslaughts on security forces
• We’re not aware of his death – Military
• Situation dicey – Expert

Leader of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Abu Musab Al-Barnawi has been killed in Borno State, Daily Trust learnt from many sources.

He was reportedly killed in the last week of August, this year.

Al-Barnawi was the son of Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf who was also killed by security forces in 2009 when he launched a war against the Nigerian state. More than one thousand people died during the uprising.

In 2016, the Islamic State (IS) militant group announced Al-Barnawi as the leader of its West African affiliate, Boko Haram, which was hitherto led by Abubakar Shekau.

Shekau took over as the group’s leader after the death of Mohammed Yusuf.

Before his dethronement, Shekau had sworn allegiance to IS in March 2015 and had killed thousands of people and destroyed countless communities during his reign of terror that extended up to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

His dislodgement in 2016 heralded the rise of the relatively young Al-Barnawi as ISWAP leader and at the same time, the split of the terrorist group into two factions.

It was reported that ISIS partly chose Al-Barnawi as leader in the Lake Chad region in order to punish Shekau who reportedly “violated all known norms” and to also retain the confidence of Boko Haram fighters who were loyal to his father, Yusuf amid threats from other factional groups.

Al-Barnawi was also said to have been trained by ISIS for years ahead of his ascension to power.

Shekau, who was declared wanted by the United States with a price on his head, had led the Boko Haram faction with solid footing around the Sambisa forest and part of the Mandara Mountains bordering the Cameroon Republic.

Vicious ISWAP Leader, Al-barnawi, Killed

On the other hand, Al-Barnawi sustained vicious attacks especially on military facilities and troops in the Lake Chad region while at the same time strategising on how to subdue Shekau.

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He controlled large swathes of territory in Northern Borno, imposed taxes on the local population and earned serious income from fishing asides from the financial and material support he got from ISIS.

Al-Barnawi’s fighters had also destroyed many military super camps in Dikwa, Monguno, Abadam and Marte in Borno; and other military facilities around Geidam in Yobe State.

He equally established many cells on the Lake Chad islands and surrounding villages from where his fighters launched attacks on Nigeria, Niger and Chad.

His death in August, after that of Shekau in May 2021, was seen as a turning point in the war against terror even as security experts had called for sustained offensive towards decimating the two rival groups to have a lasting peace after twelve years of uncertainty and carnage.

They said despite the massive surrender by Boko Haram fighters, nothing should be taken for a ride because there are many fighters who still believe in the course they are pursuing and could recover lost grounds if they get the slightest opportunity.

How Al-Barnawi was killed

There are two versions of the story of Al-Barnawi’s death with one saying he was killed by Nigerian troops and the other version saying he died during a rival war within the ISWAP camp.

The first version revolved around the information shared among some security operatives in the theatre of operation, which indicated that he was ambushed by troops during which four or five top ISWAP leaders and many foot terrorists loyal to him were also killed.

A source said he was killed around Bula Yobe, a community near the Borno/Yobe states border along Mobbar and Abadam axis that leads to the Lake Chad area.

However, a different source said the Bula Yobe where he was ambushed and killed could be accessed from Yale, Bama, Banki junction through the Kashimbri-Gulumba.

Other sources told the Daily Trust that it was leadership tussle that led to the death of Al-Barnawi.

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One of them said the battle of supremacy climaxed between August 14 and 26, 2021, and that the fight had claimed many commanders on both sides.

Yet, another source said the other camp had mobilised some terrorists from Central Africa to overthrow Al-Barnawi and they succeeded.

The military high command in Nigeria rarely confirms or denies the killing of high profile Boko Haram/ISWAP commanders because of the sensitivity of the issues.

This might not be unconnected with the multiple announcements of the killing of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau over the years only for him to resurface again and again.

It was until May 2021, when ISWAP fighters engaged Shekau in a fierce battle that led him to kill himself at one of his enclaves at the Sambisa forest.

When contacted yesterday, the Director, Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Benjamin Sawyer, told one of our correspondents that he could not confirm when Al-Barnawi was killed because troops had no link with them.

He said, “If there is a problem in their (Boko Haram) camp, how will I know? We normally have a fortnightly brief on operations. If ISWAP or BHTs are fighting among themselves, it is the media that always gives the entire nation the information. It is not us, because we are not in their camps.”

Daily Trust reports that Al-Barnawi fell less than two months after he consolidated his grip following the death of Shekau.

He had in an audio released in Kanuri language confirmed the death of Shekau and the triumph of his faction.

This is what he said in the 28-minute audio, “He (Shekau) never thought this would happen to him even in his dream, but by the power of God, we destabilised him.

“He became confused and fled to the forest where he spent five days, wandering and stranded. We followed him again where we faced him with heavy fire. He ran away.

Then our troops called on him to surrender so that he would be punished. We kept assuring him that we were not out to kill him but he was adamant and confused. As a cantankerous fellow, he believed it was better for him to die than to surrender,” he said.

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Shekau reportedly killed himself with a bomb “When he observed that the ISWAP fighters wanted to capture him alive.”

Vicious ISWAP Leader, Al-barnawi, Killed

It’s a dicey issue – Expert

A security sector reform expert, Chukwuma Ume, while speaking on the implications of the ISWAP leader’s killing on counter-insurgency, said it would have both positive and negative effects on the country.

According to him, “We are trying to focus as a nation. We are trying to up our game in terms of dealing with the issue of terrorism and insurgency.

“In as much as many people may want to say it is a welcome development, it shows that our military is waging this war seriously as we expect them but some of us will still think that a unilateral output, in this case, kinetic (use of force), may also not be the entire solution or a comprehensive solution that is required.

“This is not to take away anything from the Nigerian military. This is not to take anything away from our men and women out on the field but we are also calling on the government to be a bit more proactive in the sense that the issues leading to these: insurgency, terrorism or violent extremism should be dealt with.

“It needs a more holistic approach or integrated approach. Where there are structural imperfections or imbalance, where there are issues of exclusivity, where people feel that the quality of the life they live is on the defensive, the government should endeavour to provide these social contracts, especially those who are hitherto disadvantaged to become inclusive and to also have equitable distribution of source of livelihood.

“Yes, it is good that we seem to be winning the war, but at the same time we need to start addressing those issues that gave rise in the first instance to insurgency,” he said.

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