No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country’s top prosecutor wants Haiti’s prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.
Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?
Look to its history. After a bloody and destructive 13-year fight, Haiti, then called Saint-Domingue, won independence from France in 1804. This was the first successful slave rebellion in the modern world, and that accomplishment unnerved leaders in Europe and the newly created United States, who feared slave uprisings in their own countries.
As a result, a land that had once supplied colonial master France with enough sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton, and indigo dye for sale across Europe to constitute half of France’s gross national product was then faced with an international economic boycott.
The resulting economic crisis forced the new nation’s leaders to accept French demands for payment of some $21 billion in reparations for lost colonial property. The Haitian government had little choice but to pay, and it borrowed heavily from French, German, and American banks to finance the debt.
Fears that Haiti would default led the newly expansive United States to respond to political upheaval in 1915 by sending in Marines. This began an occupation of the country that lasted until 1934. Washington kept control of Haiti’s finances until the debt was fully repaid in 1947.
During the Cold War, the United States guarded against Communist influence in Haiti, which became an even higher priority after the revolution in neighboring Cuba brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, by supporting the dictatorship of François, and then Jean-Claude, Duvalier from 1957-1986. The anti-Communist father and son killed tens of thousands of Haitians and stole hundreds of millions of dollars.
For decades, elites backed by outsiders controlled most of Haiti’s productive land and stole much of the aid money sent to alleviate poverty and help the country recover from disasters.
And there are plenty of disasters to recover from, because Haiti, caught between North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, is prone to earthquakes. In 2010, a large quake killed 220,000 people and displaced 1.5 million.
The island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, is also situated in “hurricane alley,” an area of warm Caribbean water that forms an ideal path for deadly hurricanes.
Haiti is far more vulnerable to natural disasters than the DR and other of its neighbors because crippling debt and political corruption have left little money for investment in the kind of physical infrastructure that can withstand those disasters or for the government to spend to rebuild.
Haitian politics is mostly a fight to control access to money entering the country and the land that produces wealth via agricultural exports. Haiti doesn’t have revolutions; it has coups. Reformers who threaten vested interests become targets for deadly violence.
Not surprisingly, a number of academic studies over the years have found that “brain drain,” the exodus of the nation’s best and brightest to other countries in search of better opportunities, has further stunted Haiti’s development.
It’s the accumulation of all these problems that leaves Haiti, now home to 11 million people, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and a land in perpetual crisis. And there’s little public support in other countries for the large-scale investment — and the commitment of troops needed to protect it — that Haiti would need for decades to come.
For now, Haiti’s turmoil continues.
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The escalating crisis in Ukraine deserve the world’s focus right now, former US Secretary of State John Kerry told Ian Bremmer at the Munich Security Conference. “But the key is to remember here that Ukraine, one way or another, we’re going to resolve it ultimately over X number of years,” he said. “But the climate crisis remains existential, just as it was before the Ukraine crisis came up.”
Kerry, who now serves as President Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, also warned that the biggest concern for Russia’s economy right now is not it’s expensive military operation in Ukraine, but rather the country’s melting permafrost, crumbling urban infrastructure, and how they extract their natural gas. “Russia has a profound climate problem,” Kerry added.
The Kremlin has long been waging disinformation campaigns to try and destabilize other countries. For Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America and a former US State Department official, “longer term, that is the single biggest threat that Russia poses.” The information domain is a “battlefield” of its own, Slaughter notes, and Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, is an expert in using information “to divide and conquer.”
Slaughter spoke with moderator David Sanger in GZERO Media’s Global Stage livestream discussion at the Munich Security Conference.
Mircea Geoană, Deputy Secretary General of NATO, says that when the alliance decided that cyber should be considered an “operational domain,” the bloc also made the call that a “massive cyber attack” on one member state could trigger Article 5 of NATO’s Washington Treaty. This strikes at the heart of the alliance’s defense clause, which states that an attack on one country is considered an attack on all allies.
Geoană spoke with moderator David Sanger in GZERO Media’s Global Stage livestream discussion at the Munich Security Conference.
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, is joined by Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, to provide perspective on the Ukraine crisis at the Munich Security Conference.
Carl Bildt: This is the most dramatic conference that I think every one of us has experienced. I mean, there seems to be significant probability of war breaking out in Europe within days. We have the Ukraine president, we’ll see if he will come during the day, but we have an assortment of European leaders and vice president of the United States. And everyone is discussing, can anything more be done to prevent war? And what really do we do if it breaks out?
Ian Bremmer: And it’s kind of funny. The theme of the conference this year is helplessness. And when I flew in, I’m like, “That’s a horrible theme for the conference.” But actually, as it plays out, it’s starting to feel a little bit more on target.
Carl Bildt: Yeah. But a lot of sort of resolute speeches here, a lot of cohesion among Europeans, across the Atlantic. If war breaks out, the world will change.
Ian Bremmer: It will. I think, and I’m quite surprised that Zelenskyy is not staying in Kyiv. I hope he brings an extra suitcase or two. But I mean, there is no question. The one good piece of news is that I’ve never seen the NATO Alliance this cohesive, frankly, in terms of the way that they’re responding to this challenge.
Carl Bildt: And the same applies to Europeans.
Ian Bremmer: Absolutely.
Carl Bildt: Where there have always been significant divisions on how you deal with Russia. And some have taken a more benevolent view of Russia. But what might happen is, of course, that Mr. Putin is going to confirm some of the darkest predictions of where Russia is heading.
Ian Bremmer: But if there is a silver lining in all this is that the Swedish-American partnership, as you see, remains resolute as ever.
Carl Bildt: Well, so far.
Ian Bremmer: Well, I mean, you know?
Carl Bildt: Yeah. Can’t get everything.
Ian Bremmer: I mean, we’ve had a bunch of breakfasts. Let’s put it that way.
Carl Bildt: Too, too true.
Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
Carl Bildt: Okay.
Ian Bremmer: Very good.
Carl Bildt: Off from Munich.
Ian Bremmer: Off from Munich.
Some analysts say that if Russia takes either part or all of Ukraine, its territorial ambitions are unlikely to stop there. It could pose a threat to other former Soviet Republics that have joined NATO. Kersti Kaljulaid, former president of Estonia (2016-2021), says that the risks to other Baltic states are significant if the collective response to Russia’s ongoing aggression is “weak.” Right now, Kyiv is “not fighting only for Ukraine, but for all of us,” she said. Kaljulaid believes the current crisis poses a threat to Europe’s entire security architecture. “If we are too focused on Ukraine and whether it’ll be a slice or a bigger slice, I think we are missing the big picture.”
Kaljulaid spoke with moderator David Sanger in GZERO Media’s Global Stage livestream discussion at the Munich Security Conference.
Listen: At the 2022 Munich Security Conference, world leaders are gathering again for the first time in two years at a moment of unprecedented crisis. At the time of this GZERO World Podcast interview, Russia’s 150,000 plus troops have yet to cross the Ukrainian border, but Western officials warn that an invasion could happen at any moment. Ian Bremmer is joined by former CIA director and retired four-star general David Petraeus—who’s taken part in a couple of invasions himself—to talk about this critical moment in world history. Things look grim, no doubt, but when it comes to the state of NATO today, Petraeus says that there is a silver lining.
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At the first in-person Munich Security Conference in two years, world leaders gathered amidst the greatest threat to European peace since World War II. As over 150,000 Russian troops surrounded Ukraine’s border, poised to invade, Ian Bremmer sat down with former CIA Director and retired four star general David Petraeus for an upcoming episode of GZERO World. He knows a thing or two about invasions, having played pivotal roles in both of America’s military campaigns in Iraq over the past thirty years. And as he tells Ian Bremmer, invading a country is one thing. Holding onto it is quite another.