President Biden is about to serve six months in office without having formulated a coherent policy towards America. For now, his team’s only priority has been to subordinate foreign relations in the American continent to a national emergency: that of the undocumented who have crossed the border, including minors alone. That explains why practically all the attention of the White House has been focused on Mexico and the so-called northern triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Crises, however, have exploded for the White House on other fronts, and Biden has not decided to take the initiative on any of them.
The most pressing, being the most recent, is the assassination of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, for which the police detained 18 Colombians and two Americans. On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed that it had received a request for “security assistance.” The White House leaked that for the moment rule out the sending of troopsBut a Haiti out of control can spell a serious refugee crisis. This crisis erupts for Biden in the Caribbean just when he is trying to justify the need to return troops home from Afghanistan, after two decades of armed intervention. The truth is that the crisis in Haiti has exploded but it has not really been a great surprise: protests against Moïse’s authoritarianism were growing in frequency and intensity, although both the White House and the OAS decided to stand aside and support the assassinated president . Biden preferred to stay away, until this week the assassination became a top priority, more with Americans involved.
The same pattern has been repeated in the alarming authoritarian drift of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in America after Haiti. The recent arrests of opponents and journalists have forced the Biden Administration to react, but always on the defensive. He has approved sanctions and has called Ortega a dictator, but he has not flinched. Biden must decide whether to let Ortega continue, or opt for other measures, such as the expulsion of the trade agreements, as he has been advised by several Republican and Democratic senators in a recent open letter. The problem for Biden is that this increased repression in Nicaragua will also have an effect on emigration, and will likely increase the number of illegal immigrants from that country who cross the US border irregularly.
Biden also did something unprecedented in his first months in office: ignore the government of Colombia, your most faithful ally in the region, a crucial collaborator in the fight against drug trafficking. There were old quarrels over the support of Uribism, in power, for Trump, and the White House leaked to the US media that it was even studying reducing the amount of security aid that it sends to Bogotá each year.
However, the protests against Iván Duque changed the calculation. The country, which went from being a near-failed state to developing stronger institutions and a robust economy, was plummeting into chaos. President Iván Duque’s helicopter was attacked. Biden broke his silence with his Colombian counterpart and called him on June 28 – he took office on January 20 – to have to affirm his commitment to Colombia.
In all these crises, the White House has had to improvise. And it must continue to do so as long as it does not stop and formulate a coherent policy towards the entire continent. To do this, however, he must have a strong team that covers that area in the State department, something that has been stranded in the Senate by decision of some Democrats, who believe that other issues are higher priority.