While Haiti’s and Venezuela’s political, security and humanitarian situations remain dire, there are promising regional efforts underway to address both countries’ crises. While “the U.S. is looking for someone else to take the lead” on these situations, “there are things at play that are encouraging and at some point are going to need very tangible U.S. support,” says USIP’s Keith Mines.
U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.
Laura Coates: Joining us now is Keith Mines, the Director of the Latin America program at the United States Institute of Peace. Keith, welcome. Good morning, how are you?
Keith Mines: Good morning to you, thanks. Good to be here.
Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're here. I know that the news is really dominated for interesting reasons, of course, by this indictment of the former president, but there has surprisingly been other news in Washington, D.C. and beyond as well, including what's happened with the Vice President Kamala Harris. She made an historic trip recently to the Bahamas. Tell me a little bit about this and what was her goal?
Keith Mines: Well, she's the administration's point person for relations with the Caribbean, which is kind of natural. Her father, of course, is Jamaican, and she has an affinity, I think for that part of the hemisphere. This is her fourth meeting with leaders of the Caribbean. The last one was, of course, at the LA Summit. They talked climate change, security, trade, a whole range of things, this was no different. They had a number of initiatives that they discussed on the climate. Caribbean nations, of course, are the early ones to get hit by climate disasters, and they'll be the first ones to be underwater, so they take it very personally and very seriously. And regional security, there is a natural connection between American firearms and a lot of the violence that is happening in the Caribbean, particularly in places like Jamaica. And then the big thing was Haiti. So that's probably the most interesting of them, but on climate, they had a number of technical initiatives that they launched, there's a big part of it on preparedness, some development financing. And of course, the administration tries hard to bring in the private sector and get the public private part of it working as well and announced two new embassies, but without specifying where they're going to be. So, the Eastern Caribbean is left hanging about where there's going to be two new U.S. embassies.
Laura Coates: Interesting, I wonder why they didn't announce that. Remind us of the focus of Haiti, particularly now.
Keith Mines: Yeah, Haiti is the most interesting, I think, the most urgent, the most pressing, all the other ones are also important, but this is the one that I think is really where the attention is the most interesting. So, she, the vice president came in with kind of the standard American talking points, the support for a multinational force, there's always a new announcement of humanitarian assistance, $53 million, there were floods and a small earthquake recently, and just the general crush of the situation in Haiti always requires a bump in humanitarian assistance. And then significantly, it's a little out there timewise. But she announced the administration support for the H.O.P.E. HELP Act, which is trade preferences in Haiti, that would be helpful in the economy. That sounds like something that's in the midst of this crisis of security and politics is not that important, but it actually is. Haitian businessmen, there's lots of them, businesspersons that have stayed the course, they're still trying to keep their companies afloat, and employment is going to be a big part of any reset in Haiti. So that was actually a very significant and helpful thing that she brought. So, they had a brief discussion about Haiti. Not much came out of it, frankly, the follow-on meeting that is now taking place in Kingston, the Kingston talks they're calling it, will probably be a little more interesting. She kind of set the stage, I guess, for some of this by offering these American initiatives. But there's starting yesterday, the nations of CARICOM have gotten together in Kingston, to discuss a wide range of political and economic issues, but among which the most important is Haiti. And there's some things there that are that are sort of promising. I think if we look at the situation and what's required for a political reset in Haiti, this could be something that will be helpful.
Laura Coates: Obviously, very early to tell, but have any of these talks, is there a promise that there is going to be something tangible and measurable that can come out of it?
Keith Mines: Yeah, that's a good question. So, there's only, it's the first of three days, but there's three former Caribbean prime ministers from Jamaica, Bahamas, and St. Lucia, that are kind of this eminence group. And I think a lot of us I've written about this and a lot of the experts, Georges Fauriol, Peter Hakim and others have also endorsed this idea that at this point, in any normal diplomatic arrangement, there would be an eminence group from outside that could help to mentor and guide the process, not to dominate it, not to try to impose outside solutions, but just to provide the guardrails, if you will the inducements and try to help edge the parties together. The parties right now, are not even entirely clear, but there is the Montana group, which proposed itself as an interim government, even before the assassination two years ago with Prime Minister Moïse, or a President Moïse, that they proposed themselves as a transitional government and continued to do that into his, the tenure of Prime Minister Henry. And Henry has held out trying to govern the country. But that conflict is probably both, at the same time, it's a conflict, but it's also an opportunity if those two sides could be brought together. So, 30 Haitian politicians traveled for this meeting, and it's really what's needed is to reset the political arrangements. So, there is a functional transitional government, the current government is very weak, not popular, not supported by many outside. So, a reset to that political arrangement then gives you something that you could hang a new security architecture on. And that's the, of course the key to it. There's always been a chicken and egg question about which comes first, security or politics. But in this case, it's quite clear that at this point in time, right now, we really need the political piece to go first, there needs to be something on which you can build a new security arrangement.
Laura Coates: When it comes to Venezuela, and I know that's been part of it, and also Brazil, I mean, what is the latest there?
Keith Mines: Well, there was also an interesting regional meeting. And these regional meetings are interesting in the sense that in several cases, the United States is trying to get someone else to take the lead. So, in Haiti, of course, we would love for the Caribbean to take the lead maybe for Canada or somebody else on the security side. And so, these regional meetings are actually can be quite interesting. And then in Brazil, of course, there was the Unasur meeting, it was a reestablishment of a meeting of South American presidents, leaders. President Lula Brazil was the one that put that together was trying, I think, to establish his geopolitical credentials. So, on May 30, they got together for a summit of South American leaders. And that, again, the most interesting part of that there was trade things, there was security, environment, all sorts of things that were sort of conventional. But the interesting part to me there was, again, Venezuela. It was this crisis country, one of the two real crises in the hemisphere. And it's a similar thing where there's a need for an accompaniment of the political process that is unfolding in Venezuela. The hope that many of us had was that when you had all these left leaning leaders that came in the so-called pink wave where the hemisphere has gone from center right to now center left, the hope was that one of those leaders would sort of accompany the Maduro government, the Chavistas, in a move away from a revolutionary movement into that of a social democratic movement. And that was something that one wondered, could that happen from Colombia, from Brazil. This meeting was actually not encouraging in that sense, because it sort of broke down over the different leaders’ views of Venezuela and how to move forward. That's something that's still pending. But if Venezuela's another crisis that is going to drag on for a while, and I hope people don't lose sight of the fact that there is still democratic space there. And there is still much in play with the upcoming election and with the political process that is unfolding.
Laura Coates: This is really fascinating; I think of all that is unfolding. I do wonder particularly the repertoire that Vice President Kamala Harris has and what she's working on. Are we seeing some support more broadly, in Congress for these initiatives? For obviously, the administration, it's a priority, but where do you see this all going and playing out in terms of when the nuts and bolts have to be dealt with? Will there be support there?
Keith Mines: Yeah, that's a good question, too. I mean, I think part of what is happening is we have so we the United States, Americans have so soured on any question of intervention. And we tend to associate that immediately with a bigger military intervention and all the rest and I think that second tier of, of intervention of diplomatic assistance and security assistance, but at a distance not directly involving U.S. forces. There's a lot of that that has potential. It takes a lot of effort and skill and talent to playout. So, both Venezuela and Haiti, I think are very interesting cases where, you know, independent of U.S. military intervention, there's still an awful lot to do. Congress, I sense in many of these cases is waiting for something to get behind. And I think there's, there's a sense in many cases, maybe in Venezuela, both for many people, I think they're just not sure what to get behind. And I would suggest that in both cases, there are things in play that are encouraging and that need support and at some point, are going to need very, very tangible U.S. support. The U.S. is going to need to get behind something in both places that would allow them to play out more assertively and take an initiative that is new and fresh and has promise and really to kind of take it on the road and, and give it give it some support that would then allow that to play out as the as the way forward. So again, not two places to go wobbly on or forget about.
Laura Coates: Keith Mines, everyone Director of the Latin America program for the United States Institute of Peace. Thank you so much for being a part of the show today. I appreciate it. Have a great rest of your day and week.
Keith Mines: Thank you, Laura. Thanks.