Before we get into this truly terrible idea I’ve decided to pursue — covering 15 ongoing protest movements in one article is objectively dumb as shit but I do what I want — I want to take a quick second to define for the public record what I mean by ‘protest season,’ because I think it’s a good phrase and I want to come back to it later. My use of the word ‘season’ implies a recurrence at regular intervals, mostly because that’s what season means, but in this context, I’ve decided it will mean something else. I think protest season is defined more by a general global vibe, an ephemeral and largely coincidental synching of cross-national discontent punctuated by outbreaks of mass disobedience or violence, than by any temporal pattern.
Of course, protest season is not the only time when protest movements can occur, nor does the occurrence of multiple protests at once necessarily mark the advent of this made-up occasion. Instead, it basically just comes around when there’s a lot of shit going down everywhere and I don’t have the time or the column inches to do it justice. I mean for real, 15 (probably more) different protest movements have cropped up at basically the same time, you can’t tell me nobody else is feeling a bit of a disturbance in the force.
I’ll be honest though, you’d be forgiven for not recognizing just how much people are generally pissed off at the moment. The media in rich countries like ours has been doing this really interesting balancing act where they spend about half their time sucking off our vaccine stats like we didn’t just spend a year strangling the fuck out of the supply chain to the point where only about 1% of people in poor countries are vaccinated, and they spend the other half pushing stories about the one or two major international incidents that have managed to cling to global attention spans like there aren’t at least another 13.
Look, I’m not a complete moron, I know that some stories are gonna hit harder than others and I know that those stories get a bigger air supply, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Like I get that many Westerners have family in a lot of unstable places in the world, and that can drive coverage, but realistically, what is the average news consumer able to do about, say, unrest in Cuba, which has garnered relentless headlines, that they can’t do about, say, unrest in Eswatini, which you’ve probably never heard of? All infographics are created equal, okay, and I think they all deserve an equal chance to spam our Instagram story feed, that’s all I’m saying.
So it’s in this context — the fact that the world seems a little extra on fire lately and the idea that you should be equally little informed about lots of things rather than slightly more informed about fewer things — that I’m compiling this overhyped geopolitical listicle you’ll soon have the pleasure of journeying through. I guess that means I should start writing it. Okay here we go:
Baseball players are the only thing America is down to import from Cuba
Might as well start here since we’re basically all slaves to America’s news cycle anyway, and boy is it super into this story. In fairness to them, it does kinda seem like the protests are at least slightly the US government’s fault, so I can see why they’d be invested, but on the other hand, I think you could make a compelling argument that basically all protests are at least slightly the US government’s fault, so whatever.
Essentially, Cuba has a cash problem. Despite both countries belonging to the World Trade Organization, the US has maintained an embargo on the Caribbean nation for something like 60 years. The embargo, sometimes called a blockade, though it’s unclear whether the outcome of that semantic argument means literally anything, has been in place since US relations with Cuba began rapidly deteriorating under the new rule of then-president Fidel Castro. When it was instituted, it completely tanked the Cuban economy and created a massive trade vacuum, which was the plan, and it forced Castro to cozy up to the Soviet Union, which then collapsed and forced the country to lean more heavily on the tourism industry, which collapsed in March of last year, and do you see where I’m going with this?
So the economy is in the shitter, but that’s true for a lot of countries; it’s the way that a shit economy impacts real people that’s always a bit of an adventure. In Cuba’s case, it meant that the government had to work on some currency reform. See, when you’re embargoed or blockaded or whatever, you can’t use credit to buy anything, you have to provide hard cash, usually USD backed. But the way you get that cash is by selling goods and services and when you have no tourism, and nobody wants to buy your shit for fear of US sanctions, that can be hard to come by. So the government set up so-called MLC stores, which stands for something related to foreign currency in Spanish, and it consolidated essential goods into these stores to raise funds so that it could, y’know, have an economy.
Well, we all saw what happened with toilet paper in rich countries, so now just imagine what that would look like if you replaced ‘toilet paper’ with ‘food and medicine.’ Yeah, probably mass protests, right? Makes sense. And it’s not like Cuba has that much of a history of mass protests either, unlike some of the other countries I’m going to talk about (cough, France, cough). I mean, other than the whole revolution thing, and the time that unrest almost boiled over exactly like this after the collapse of the Soviet Union, public demonstrations like the ones we’re seeing now are extremely rare. Frankly though, this is because tolerance for dissent has never been particularly high in post-revolution Cuba.
And I will say, a lot of the coverage of these events level blame right at the American government like I just did, which I think is fair given that the embargo is definitely in violation of a bunch of different norms of international law and has been condemned like two dozen years in a row by the United Nations, but it’s not like the Cuban government should be seen as completely removed from its people’s discontent. Rights groups have called on Cuban police to chill out, prime minister Manueal Marrero, despite taking some responsibility for his country’s current state, has blocked communications networks, called on his supporters to counter-protest, and called protestors “delinquents,” and hundreds have been arrested.
This is Capetown. None of this story is about Capetown, but isn't it pretty?
I’m not doing these in any particular order but fuck it, let’s just go with the other one everybody’s been talking about, frankly with good reason. A little less than two weeks ago, a wave of violence began spreading across the province of KwaZulu Natal and into the province of Gauteng, which contains the city of Johannesburg. The violence, which included mass looting as well as what has been described as coordinated and targeted attacks against ‘critical infrastructure’ for transportation and communications began in response to the detention of former president Jacob Zuma, who recently began a 15-month prison stint for contempt of court relating to hundreds of allegations of corruption during his rule which ended in 2018. Zuma has also previously faced allegations of racketeering, cronyism, money laundering, arms trafficking, and rape.
His successor was Cyril Ramaphosa, who travelled to KwaZulu Natal on Friday for his first on-the-ground appearance since the outbreak of violence that claimed over 200 lives and condemned unnamed agitators who he said are enemies of democracy looking to undermine the country’s leadership. KwaZulu Natal was Zuma’s political stronghold, according to the Guardian, and multiple sources have reported that South African authorities are investigating some Zuma allies for inciting the riots, similar to what the FBI is doing in the wake of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
While it seems likely, given the timing, location, online incitement, and the targeting of critical infrastructure, that Zuma loyalists were behind the original KwaZulu Natal violence, the actions of that camp might not be the sole motivation for the unrest, particularly in Gauteng and Johannesburg. Other reports have cited drastic wealth inequality which had been exacerbated by the pandemic as the reason for some of the chaos. Thousands have been arrested.
What’s crazy about this story, other than, y’know, all of it, is that I can’t understand the logic behind it. The obvious parallel is to the Capitol Hill riots, but Trump’s supporters were convinced he had won the election, and he was still technically in power for another two weeks when that went down. Zuma’s been out of office for like 3 years, and he was in jail when the violence broke out. What were his supporters, if they were indeed behind the violence, hoping for? That they would destabilize the country, which deployed over 10,000 troops to help quell the unrest, so much that they could break old Jake out of the clink and wrest back control? Cause call me a pessimist, but that doesn’t seem all that realistic. I don’t get it, it all seems so needless. I guess I just want there to be a better reason for those 200+ people to be dead, so if you’re one of those nutjob conspiracists and you have some ideas, maybe send them my way. Not because I’ll believe them, but just because maybe they’ll make me feel better, I don’t know.
Since we’re on the subject of batshit crazy decisions leading to incredible violence, let’s mosey on back to the Caribbean, shall we? I am genuinely helpless when it comes to reporting on Haiti because the media, especially in this country, but also international media generally has a history of diagnosing the poverty-stricken nation with harmful buzz-words that detract from the lived experiences of Haitians. These buzz-words, which I see lamented by Hatian writers and journalists on the all-too rare occasions when they’re given a platform that reaches me, tend to support this weird void of responsibility that almost seems to place the blame for Haiti’s position on the citizens themselves instead of a massive trainwreck of foreign intervention in the first Caribbean country to liberate itself from colonial rule. They have also saturated my own perception of the nation.
Cliches about “endemic corruption” and “perpetual turmoil” don’t do shit to help people actually understand what went so catastrophically wrong in the long run because it’s a hell of a lot more than just one event. I’m not able to do it either, so seriously go find someone who can. In the meantime though, let’s talk about just one event and skip the context, because while it isn’t the only reason Haiti is so fucked up right now, it will very likely be a contributing factor in the future: the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.
Moïse was Haiti’s president up until about two weeks ago, when he was assassinated by mercenaries in his home in Port-au-Prince, the capital. The leading theory is that this group of armed men, seven of whom, according to the head of Colombia’s police, gen. Jorge Vargas, entered Moïse’s home on July 7 and shot him to death were hired to do so by a former Haitian official named Joseph Felix Badio. If you’re wondering why Vargas is involved, according to Al Jazeera, “the majority” of the 20 suspects arrested in conjunction with the assassination were Colombian soldiers, though apparently most were “duped.” Vargas, Haitian officials, and Interpol are conducting a joint investigation. The FBI is also investigating multiple links to the plot with Florida businesses.
In video of the operation, which I’m going to call an operation because the descriptions make it sound like a goddamn Ghost Recon mission, taken by a neighbor, one of the assailants can be heard identifying himself with a megaphone as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent and telling residents to stay back. Haitian officials have said that they were not with the DEA, but that the assailants carried military rifles and spoke Spanish and English. Haitian police chief Leon Charles said that 24 police officers were guarding the late president’s residence, and neighbors said that the guards were disarmed by the attackers and that they could hear a drone(s) and an explosion. The whereabouts of Badio are unknown, but one assailant, an ex-Colombian soldier who was doing contracted military work in Haiti and whom Vargas alleges was ordered by Badio to kill Moïse, was killed in a shootout with police. Another contractor reportedly privy to the order is among those in custody.
Okay, so basically, what the fuck? First of all, let’s start with the fact that if this was a coup attempt, it has to be either one of the shittiest coup attempts in modern history, right up there with the Proud Boys, or one of the most genius, because literally the entire world doesn’t understand it yet. If the cops are telling the truth, they found out who ordered the hit almost immediately, so that’s a botch job right there. And who the fuck is this Badio guy, anyway? Apparently he was in the justice ministry before and according to CNN, the election minister, Mathias Pierre, told them he believes Badio was working for “bigger fish.” Notably, on Friday, another former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, returned to Haiti after seeking unknown medical treatment in Cuba. Or maybe it’s not notably, because who the fuck knows?? But now there’s a vacuum, and vacuums are very bad, especially in a country that has been devastated by politically motivated gang violence, extreme poverty, and Covid, and which has seen consistent and recurring public demonstrations against corruption for years at this point. Watch this story closely, and for God’s sake, read up on Haiti. It’s not all earthquakes and Travis Scott, you know.
To Be Continued
Hey! If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking it out. It’s obvious to me now that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with this project, and despite going into this with a commitment to be as un-nuanced as possible in the interest of time, It turns out protest movements are really fucking complicated, who’d’ve thought? I hope you’re enjoying this article so far, and I ask that you check back here regularly, because I’ll be updating it as the week goes on. Next up is Georgia (the country.) It’s a good one, but you can take a break for now :) See you soon!