The Miami-Haiti Connection: Another mercenary, another day.

By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Emerging details suggest that President Moïse’s assassins were Colombians hired by a security firm in Florida. Sound familiar?

This weekend we found out that the Colombian men arrested in connection with the assassination of Haitian president Jovenal Moïse may have been hired by a Florida private security company with Venezuelan connections. Furthermore, they might have been deployed on behalf of an Haitian ex-pat in Miami who wanted to replace Moïse as president.

Why does this sound so familiar?

Maybe because it was only last year that 13 men led an unsuccessful coup attempt — known cheekily as the “Bay of Piglets” — against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Their alleged leader was a former Navy Seal, who also runs a security company in Florida. Jordan Goudreau was allegedly working with ex-Venezuelan military exiles who wanted to help overthrow Maduro for opposition leader Juan Guaido (he has denied any involvement). They led an elaborate plan to train fellow ex-Venezuelan military soldiers at a training camp in Colombia. Goudreau wasn’t on the boat that day when the May 2020 plot was foiled, but two former Green Berets (ages 34 and 41) were, and they are doing 20 years in a Venezuelan jail right now, convicted on charges of conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons, and terrorism.

The details in both stories are sordid, but the common thread is this: guns for hire have always been around but after our 9/11 wars the proliferation of private military companies with sophisticated weapons, well-trained leaders, and money seeming to burn cannot be ignored. As Sean McFate, author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order (2015) likes to say, it would be impossible to stuff this genie back into the bottle. Not only did we conjure the djinn of the modern industry by outsourcing security throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — think Blackwater, Dyncorp, Triple Canopy — but made it a lucrative opportunity for the millions of veterans of those wars. And it’s not just an American game. Plenty of companies working with governments all over the world see the benefit of waging conflicts under the radar with hired mercenaries — just ask the Russians. According to reports, the Wagner group has been operating in Ukraine, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Madagascar, and yes, in 2019 they were reportedly working to protect Maduro in Venezuela.

And we cannot forget about our prince of peace, Erik Prince, Blackwater founder, who Time magazine just reported was allegedly approaching the Ukrainian government in 2020 with plans to build a private army to help them against the Russians.The Ukrainians smartly turned them down, as did the Trump administration when Prince was shopping around a plan to outsource Afghanistan. The Somali government shut down a Prince-related contract in 2011. Meanwhile, he was recently accused of backing an armed (but aborted) operation that would have helped insurgent Khalifa Haftar overthrow the government in Libya (in violation of UN arms embargo) in 2019. Supposedly, he even offered his services to Maduro, a year before Goudreau’s silly plot.

But the UAE was glad to take Prince’s sellswords for royal bodyguards in 2011. And guess where they were from (and trained)? Colombia. Soldiers trained there were later sent to fight (and die) in Yemen for the Emiratis.

Privateering is a lucrative business. It’s also a highly amoral trade in which governments, non-state actors, and private citizens with the right amount of money can wage an insurgency, repress local populations, or assassinate the leader of another country. The highest bidder wins.

While we are still just learning the Miami connection to Moïse’s murder, the very mention of a private security firm raises some uncomfortable questions about financing and the ease with which armed assailants can be trained and armed and transported around for these missions. As McFate would like to say, this won’t be the last time.

“A world with more mercenaries is one with more war and suffering,” he has said.

Let’s just hope Erik Prince doesn’t have his finger prints on this one. We sort of created him.




Joe Biden can display a new diplomacy-first US foreign policy by re-engaging Cuba

By John McAuliff.

Five years ago, I stood in a mostly Cuban crowd outside of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, excitedly watching our flag raised for the first time in 54 years. Two hours later, I was at a celebratory party at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, a beautiful building purportedly designed, but never used, as a winter White House for FDR. Scores of official and non-official Americans who had worked for normalization were there, along with diplomats from other countries. No one from the Cuban government attended because the embassy chose to invite a few prominent dissidents.

The path to this day had not been easy due to political distrust on both sides, but its success was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro. None of us expected that future relations would be simple. However, we never anticipated that virtually everything would be undone by the election of Donald Trump.

Cuba relations will hardly be the largest problem or the first priority of a Biden administration, but it is low hanging fruit. While special interests are loudly in favor or against U.S. engagement with the island, two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and ready to go further to completely open travel.

Joe Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening. He will do at least as well with personally affected Florida voters by convincing them his goal is a positive functional relationship with the land that is still the home of their parents, children, and other family members. He can counteract the narrow-minded regression of President Trump for whom Cuba policies were seemingly little more than a favor to Marco Rubio and Vladimir Putin.

Biden will be able to signal his concern for the well-being of the people of both nations, his desire to strengthen in practice pro-market reforms, and the need to effectively compete with growing Russian and Chinese influence. His administration could solidify a historic new chapter of post-Monroe Doctrine, post-Platt Amendment U.S. partnership with the hemisphere.

Biden’s campaign is already publicly critical of the Trump administration’s latest punitive pettiness toward Cuba: prohibition of rare private charter flights. Biden himself has told Americas Quarterly, “as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

Biden will certainly receive support from his vice president. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is among 46 bipartisan cosponsors of a bill to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba.

He can also expect an abrazo, a hug, from the new First Lady, whose moving cultural visit to Camaguey and Havana was portrayed in an Obama White House video.

Biden has four stages of opportunity that will cut the Gordian knot of six decades of intractable mutually destructive U,S,-Cuba relations.

First, during the campaign or right after election, he should announce that immediately upon taking office he will restore Obama’s policies on individual and group travel licenses, cruises, flights to regional cities, remittances, import of agricultural products, international shipping, specific types of investments, and banking and as well as facilitation of visas for educational and cultural exchange.

He should also clarify that Cubans granted visas for family and professional visits and for study in the United States will be deemed ineligible to claim status under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the law that provides legal status to those Cuban nationals who arrive to the United States illegally.  (Depending on U.S. success in controlling COVID-19, an announcement of intention allows planning for the winter season and spring semester by the travel sector and universities.)

Second, within his first year in the White House, Biden should fully restaff an embassy gutted by the Trump administration, which opportunistically exploited inexplicable health problems of U.S. personnel to abandon its responsibility .

He should also reopen consular authority and restore visa availability for immigration and family reunion visits. And Biden should support existing legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and other bills for comparable initiatives in agricultural and medical sales as well as on related financial transactions.

Biden should also enable collaboration in medicine and science, including on anti-COVID research, treatment, and international humanitarian assistance. He can also break new ground by testing and supporting economic reforms such as terminating application of the embargo to privately owned small and medium Cuban enterprises — thereby permitting their exports, imports, and U.S. investments.

Third, within his first two years in officeBiden should align with hemispheric and European goals by achieving through comprehensive negotiations a political settlement in Venezuela and an end to the unilateral U.S. embargo of Cuba.

He should open consulates in at least one Cuban and one U.S. city and allow ferry service between U.S. and Cuban ports. On the media front, he can seek reciprocal dampening of interventionist hostility by state funded publications, broadcasts, and social media, replaced by ongoing multi-sectoral dialog about conflicting human rights values and ideologies.

Finally, within his first term, Biden should follow the road map to restore full Cuban sovereignty of the Guantanamo base that was developed during the Obama administration’s normalization discussions by then-deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro head of Cuba’s National Security Council and Raul’s son.

As the result of the Obama-Castro opening, real differences were emerging in Cuba about whether reconciliation and mutual respect with the U.S. was truly possible or a Trojan Horse. But President Trump’s harsh renewal of Cold War-era hostility foreclosed the discussion.

Closer U.S.-Cuban ties can also help lead to more definitive conclusions about just what happened to American diplomats in Havana regarding the mysterious health issues. The Cubans may be able to help eliminate the problem by identifying and controlling the cause based on Canadian medical and scientific research and private collaboration with U.S. scientists, doctors, and security officials.

A potential Biden administration has an opportunity to move the United States in the right direction, but real trust is impossible as long as the U.S. maintains a devastating unilateral embargo and refuses to restore the Guantanamo base to national sovereignty, consistent with U.S. principles elsewhere in the world.

John McAuliff, Responsible Statecraft.


U.S. Violated Trade Rules With Tariffs on China, World Trade Organization Says.

By Bryce Baschuk, Bloomberg.

The World Trade Organization undercut the main justification for President Donald Trump’s trade war against China, saying that American tariffs on Chinese goods violate international rules.

A panel of three WTO trade experts on Tuesday said the U.S. broke international rules when it imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in 2018. Washington has imposed levies on more than $550 billion in Chinese exports.

The panel said in its report “that the United States had not met its burden of demonstrating that the measures are provisionally justified.”

While the ruling bolsters Beijing’s claims, Washington can effectively veto the decision by lodging an appeal at any point in the next 60 days. That’s because the Trump administration has already paralyzed the WTO’s appellate body, a tactic that has rendered toothless the world’s foremost arbiter of trade.

Section 301

The dispute centers on the Trump administration’s use of a 1970s-era U.S. trade law to unilaterally launch its commercial conflict against China in 2018.

China claimed the tariffs violated the WTO’s most-favored treatment provision because the measures failed to provide the same treatment to all WTO members. China also alleged the duties broke a key dispute-settlement rule that requires countries to first seek recourse from the WTO before imposing retaliatory measures against another country.

The U.S. tariffs against China were authorized under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which empowers the president to levy tariffs and other import restrictions whenever a foreign country imposes unfair trade practices that affect U.S. commerce. The Trump administration has claimed the tariffs were necessary to confront China’s widespread violations of intellectual property rights and forced technology transfer policies.

Though the use of Section 301 isn’t unprecedented, the provision largely fell out of favor in the 1990s after the U.S. agreed to first follow the WTO’s dispute settlement process before it triggered any retaliatory trade actions.

While the European Union has so far been spared U.S. levies based on the controversial Section 301, the 27-nation bloc may breathe a sigh of relief over Tuesday’s WTO verdict. That’s because the Trump administration has threatened to use Section 301 to hit European goods with levies in retaliation over the taxation of digital companies in the EU.


It’s time to end senseless, endless sanctions.

By George A. Lopez

Thirty years ago this week the United Nations Security Council responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait with mandatory, comprehensive economic sanctions. By 2000 the UNSC, led by the United States, had imposed powerful embargos in 11 other cases of threats to international peace and security. Despite developing more targeted “smart sanctions” aimed primarily at group and national leaders, elongated sanctions episodes continued to wreak disastrous consequences on civilians through the present day. The Trump Administration’s use of maximum pressure sanctions, which some see as targeted, plus trade sanctions on steroids, have devastated civilians in North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela, thus solidifying wide acceptance that sanctions constitute economic war.

Just as U.S. policy should end our endless wars, sanctions as part of protracted war — as in Iraq and Afghanistan — or sanctions that make war on general populations should also end. Whoever wins the presidency in November must rethink how sanctions can be an essential, yet prudent, tool of U.S. economic statecraft. Such a reformulation should rely on lessons learned from sanctions research and include reconstructing the U.S. government vision and architecture for sanctions policy.

When, why, and how do sanctions work

Sanctions work best when they are one of a number of diverse tools employed to achieve a clearly defined and consistent set of policy goals. Sanctions must not only bite and enrage the targeted group or nation, but actually engage them in continued diplomacy focused on the behavior needed to lift the sanctions. At best, sanctions achieve compliance from their targets in about one-third of cases, with that compliance occurring within two and a half years. Short of full success, the greater the active diplomacy accompanying sanctions, the stronger the constraints stifling the target’s goals.

Historically, multilateral sanctions are more successful than unilateral. Recent decisions by the U.S. to maximize implementation through expanding targeted designations and imposing crippling banking sanctions has led to greater negative impact on civilians, thus eroding international cooperation. Sanctions fail in various ways but most often when the policy goals are diffuse, unrealistic in making multiple demands, or when obsession with adding more sanctions lead sanctions to become the policy, rather than a means to policy.

Understanding the nuances of sanctions success in issue areas important to the U.S. is critical to improving their effectiveness in future U.S. policy. Regarding human rights, neither unilateral nor multilateral sanctions have ever toppled a brutal dictator. Nor have sanctions, by themselves, ever forced rights violators to desist in their worst acts. Most effective, however, are two sanctions strategies. The first lies in the standard mantra, “follow the money,” which most often applies to sanctions concerns with terrorist networks or when U.S. banking and currency markets are in jeopardy. But as organizations like the Sentry Project have demonstrated, sanctions policy actions can identify brutal rights abusers for the kleptocrats that they are, freeze their worldwide assets, and hold them to full account.

Second, as pre-atrocity indicators increase in a society, sanctions can play a significant prevention or mitigation role through asset seizures and travel bans on a range of mid-level economic and political enablers who strengthen and shield brutal dictators. These include bankers, industrialists, and police and military networks in and outside a rights abusing regime. U.S. leaders must mobilize anew the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as the strongest mechanism for action against kleptocrats and enablers.

To constrain nuclear non-proliferation, the U.S. needs a similar new awareness and agility. Sanctions cannot bludgeon a nation into giving up what it considers as its most powerful security protection. But nuclear reversal has occurred in Iran, Ukraine, South Africa, Brazil, and Libya when sanctions deny money and material critical to the development of arsenals, while new security guarantees are forged from intense problem-solving diplomacy. In addition, these agreements are accompanied by a versatile array of economic inducements from a number of nations which motivates and sustains the target renouncing nuclear development.

Creating a “whole of government” approach to U.S. sanctions

To launch a new, diplomacy-dominated sanctions era, future U.S. presidents must create a new architecture featuring a whole of government approach to ensuring sanctions success. This entails reinvigorating some agencies and redefining the roles of others to improve sanctions design and impact assessment.

Such restructuring begins with re-establishing the key role of the State Department in policy formulation and negotiation by restoring its Office of Sanctions Policy that was dissolved in 2017. A similar re-injection of sanctions expertise will be needed in the National Security Council and in the Policy Planning Staff at State. These reforms, in turn, must lead to a rebalance of power with the Treasury Department where the Secretary’s Office and the Office of Foreign Asset Control has had extensive sway over the politics of sanctions.

In this reorganization, OFAC and Treasury will still have important but different roles to play. The more than 8,000 entries on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List in Treasury results from the discovery of networks trading in prohibited materials, money laundering, and establishing shadow banks and financial institutions as sanctions evasion strategies employed by targeted governments or groups.

The next administration should de-politicize this listing procedure and keep them more narrowly defined as the international criminal activity they are. The tasks of “outlawing” actors via sanctions has convoluted the delicate diplomacy needed to produce the compliance the U.S. seeks from national leaders. Sanctions policy benefits if OFAC pursues criminal charges in the legal realm and not in the political lane.

New thinking should also be brought to the role of the Commerce Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in attaining sanctions goals from an inducement perspective. Commerce could build on its recent success in bolstering ventures in Sudan in that nation’s early post-dictatorship era. USAID can inject assistance to areas of a post-sanctions economy in most need of recovery.

The role of Congress in validating a new and vigorous sanctions plan by providing additional funding for such foreign policy priorities cannot be overlooked. So too Congress might finally pass into law a proposal offered 20 years ago by the late Senator Richard Lugar that imbeds a two year sunset clause into U.S. sanctions. To extend sanctions beyond that would require the administration to certify the national security role of the sanctions, state their current effectiveness, and document they were not harming civilians.

Finally, based on past experiences, international relief agencies and the NGO community can claim quite rightly that humanitarian sanctions are an oxymoron. Therefore, a new, nimble and sensible sanctions policy would incorporate their experiences and remedies into the definition of rules governing their travel, delivery of supplies, and additional exemptions they need for preventing and mitigating humanitarian crises. With their guidance, U.S. sanctions design, implementation, and enforcement can reduce dramatically the duration and depth of the negative impact sanctions have on innocent civilians.

However difficult the task may be for U.S. leadership to develop sanctions that “do no harm” to the general population, the time for constructing these tools has come. Such action and the policy goals it would support could end senseless and endless sanctions.

George A. Lopez

Source: Responsible State Craft.

U.S – UK Huawei Ban: Tecnationalism or a Looming New Tech Cold War?



By Ssemanda Allawi.

 After several months of U.S’ campaign against Chinese telecom giant Huawei claiming the move was due to security concerns, United Kingdom (UK) gave in to Washington’s fear-mongering as London announced a decision to lock Huawei out of their 5G network rollout.

While the U.S has always fronted what they call security concerns as the main reason for their campaign against Huawei, early this year, UK’s security agencies concluded that any risk posed by the vendor (Huawei) was manageable. Indeed, while announcing the decision to side-line Huawei, UK’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden informed UK parliament that London decided to lock Huawei out of its market as a result of U.S’ sanctions against the firm which meant that Huawei could no longer use American chips in their kits.

What is clear here is that UK government did not ban Huawei on ground of national security but rather American sanctions on Huawei which some analysts argue are political. Indeed, President Trump’s top Republican party leaders have openly argued that playing “China Card” and Trump attacking China and Chinese firms plays well for his re-election campaign.

While it is now more clear that U.S’ interests are not solely security concerns but rather Trump Administration’s political mathematics of what “card” will give them support in November polls, U.S’ campaign against Chinese firms such Huawei and recently TikTok is emblematic of slowly but steady development of tech-protectionism and America’s latest attempt to change the current global order which is facilitated by U.S’ fear of other emerging tech giants like China.

Whereas Washington insist that their fears are related to the so-called sovereignty and security concerns as they continue to push other countries to back their stand against Huawei and other Chinese tech-firms, it is becoming more clearer that the concerns the U.S is giving are just scapegoats and arguably, the real reason is that the U.S is scared of competition from Chinese firms which have proved to be steadfast and very innovative in terms of technology. It is not a surprise that Huawei which U.S is determined to chase out of market currently is the leading G5 service provider in the world and TikTok on the other hand is the world’s most popular short-form video app including in the U.S with over 80 million users globally.

An argument can therefore be made that U.S’ campaign against Chinese firms is not that these firms pause a security threat but U.S firms have failed to match Chinese firm’s technology advancement and hence this tricky campaign against them.

According to a paper published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is ranked as the world’s third most influential Think Tank published on 29th June 2020, the formerly technological giants; “Japan and the United States have watched warily as China’s economic heft has grown and as the technological sophistication of its manufacturing base has increased” which leaves the U.S more worried that China is advancing more in technology terms and thereby creating unprecedented fear in Washington with establishments in fear of “losing” this important technological revolution, thus, leaving the U.S to overreact.

The paper further argues that presently, apart from China, there is no other country that on its own has muscle to emerge victorious with excellent technological innovations and suggests the U.S must form allies with other countries such as Japan and “update their decades-old bilateral science and technology cooperation agreement, especially by doing more to nurture private-sector collaboration; and broaden cooperation and deepen funding pools on certain shared strategic priorities, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing”.

Indeed, after UK’s announcement of locking out Huawei out of their 5G rollout, there have been corridor talks suggesting the need to come up with an International tech partnership established on ideals  of the so-called Five Eye intelligence sharing group (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and U.S) or another one based on the recently created so-called ‘D10’ which include G7 countries plus Australia, India and South Korea otherwise known as the ‘democratic 10’.

Arguably, this is based on the fear that China is taking over tech revolution and no other single country may manage to counter them and hence, the need for an alliance in this mission.

The challenge this practice of the U.S looking at China’s great success in technology as competition which leaves the U.S trailing has left the U.S aggressively campaigning against Chinese tech companies and it does not only affect Chinese firms but will in long run affect the U.S itself and other countries that will take U.S’ side.

As James L. Schoff, a senior fellow in Carnegie Think Tank observed; “Fear of “losing” this competition (Technology) is fuelling an unprecedented scale of investment and a zero-sum mentality that could tempt countries to overreact in ways that would damage their national interests and broader global interests.”

The above observation is correct. As a result of their decision to appease U.S by blocking Huawei, on top of losing billions of pounds, the decision meant that plans for UK’s 5G rollout will delay several years as other countries like China move on with their 5G rollout plans uninterrupted.

Put differently, U.S’ campaign against Huawei and other Chinese tech firms has far reaching negative implications to countries that are pressured to follow U.S’ demands as analysts continue to warn that the U.S’ negative campaign against Huawei and West’s attempt to establish a Western Competitor to challenge China’s Huawei is a miscalculation and “ludicrous” gamble.

Though there are other potential alternatives such as Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, Japan’s Fujitsu or South Korea’s Samsung that can supply countries like UK with G5, the process of switching cannot be realised in very short time. Also, just left the European Union recently, there are higher chances that they are not likely to consider an EU member country’s firm like Finland’s Nokia or Sweden’s Ericsson to provide them with G5 which gives leaves Japan’s Fujitsu or South Koreas’ Samsung possible favourites. Indeed, South Korea’s Samsung was quick to show how willing they are to rollout their G5 in UK.

Whichever Country UK choose to supply them G5, UK cannot completely divorce the relationship with China considering China’s investments in UK. International Monitory Fund (IMF) figures shows China among top investors in the UK with investments in key sectors such as nuclear powers plants like the £20 bn project at Hinkley, and infrastructure sector.

In 2019 alone, China was UK’s 4th source of inputs which valued at £49bn and 6th biggest export market £30.7 which both shows Chinese huge role in UK’s economic development.

Therefore, while the U.S may want to influence the West to disengage from their times with China in an effort ensure the U.S is not aged in the so-called 4th Industrial tech revolution, as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s James. L Schoff put it; “The United States and Japan do not have to upend globalization to compete effectively with China” this maybe not be that easy as Washington may think and it has other far reaching effects to other countries as discussed.


Ssemanda Allawi,

Research Fellow; Development Watch Centre.

Author; Global Governance and Norm Contestation: How BRICS is

Reshaping Global Order.

Research Interest: Role of New Media in conducting diplomacy.

Twitter @SsemandaAllawi


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