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CARICOM's Action on Haiti: Honor for a Few, Shame for Most
Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2004

Whatever happened to Jamaican P.J. Patterson's spunk?

Trinidad's Patrick Manning clamors to be in Uncle Sam's pocket.

Barbados' Owen Arthur strangely silent.

CARICOM all but ignores relentless persecution of Aristide's political party and an ominous list of casualties occurring among the ousted president's backers.

As most of the members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) prepare to relinquish their principled stand on Haiti, perhaps as a result of Washington's leverage over their troubled economies, three nations are determined to hold firm to their democratic principles. Guyana, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines oppose any recognition at this time of the Haitian government led by interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. In the past months, CARICOM, at first led by Jamaica's P.J. Patterson, had steadfastly refused to recognize the interim government that was formed upon the February 29, 2004 ouster of the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A delegation of five CARICOM foreign ministers led by Barbados' Dame Billie Miller visited Haiti in July and has since recommended that CARICOM return to "full engagement" with the Latortue government. The recommendation marks an abrupt reversal of CARICOM's previous doughty position on Haiti the regional bloc had been the most vocal advocate of Haitian democracy and its sovereign rights in the days immediately before and after Aristide's overthrow.

Championing the Haitian cause in both the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS), CARICOM was forced to drop its request for a UN investigation as a result of determined opposition from the U.S. and France and Secretary General Kofi Annan's unfortunate languor over the subject. However, CARICOM's persistence eventually led to an OAS resolution that essentially acknowledged that "an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state" had taken place in Haiti. Due to their adamant concern for Haitian autonomy, CARICOM members initially took a stand that affirmed their own self-respect as well as their insistence that, although tiny, they would not allow their dignity to be trampled. They also insisted that they would not act as indifferent bystanders as armed insurgents and the hemisphere's larger nations, such as the United States, interfered with the constitutional process of a fellow CARICOM nation.

The three heroes
Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo, St. Lucian prime minister Kenneth Anthony and St. Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Ralph Gonsalves have insisted that full engagement with the new government, if it happens at all, should not take place before the special summit of CARICOM leaders scheduled to take place in Trinidad and Tobago in November. All along, Gonsalves has displayed inestimable pluck by maintaining his insistence on salvaging CARICOM's honor regarding Haiti. But Jagdeo must have warmed the heart and done homage to the ideals of Guyana's greatest historical figure, the late Cheddi Jagan, when he emphasized that "the issue of ensuring that constitutional governance is not disrupted by coups or political violence remains of deep concern to Guyana." Jagdeo's words were particularly important since unlike his mentor, Jagan, who was considered the soul and undeniable moral force of CARICOM, the country's current leader was viewed up until now as more of a technocrat than a visionary.

As the other members of CARICOM succumb to concerns of political expediency and base self-interest, these three countries should be praised for their continued focus on the real problems extant in Haiti. How can CARICOM in good conscience walk away from a series of hard facts? While Latortue holds de facto power in Haiti, he certainly does not hold the premiership as the result of a legal process: he was plucked from his reportedly gated community in Boca Raton and then extra-constitutionally installed in the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.

Jamaican Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Keith Knight says that Jamaica is "committed to helping the Haitian people in their institutional and capacity-building, working with the United Nations mission in areas such as the Haitian police, the electoral system and the administration of the country, to improve the life of the people there." While these are admirable sentiments, the members of CARICOM now pushing for the recognition of the Latortue government should consider the ultimate implications of their alleged "realism."

Genuflecting to Washington was not exactly a problem for Trinidad and Tabago's prime minister Patrick Manning, who had no honor to lose when he said, "What has happened in the past we consider very unfortunate, we don't like it at all. However, we think the time has come to move on." Equally strange is the conduct of Barbados' Owen Arthur, who has been all but silent on the issue. Barbados' seemingly compromised position is reminiscent of the late Tom Adams' role in the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, when Barbados' then Prime Minister closed the island's airport to prevent U.S. medical students from fleeing Grenada, thus removing Washington's pretext to invade the island.

The majority of CARICOM now seems ready to accept a constitutionally blemished government in Port-au-Prince, which seems intent on pursuing a program of persecution against, rather than constructive engagement with, their political opponents. There are growing reports coming out of Haiti of massive human rights violations, including the violent deaths of hundreds of perceived opponents of the Latortue government as well as those who actively supported Aristide. In addition, Lavalas political figures, including a number of former high level officials like former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, have been arrested and are now rotting in jail. As additional negative accounts of wrongdoing come to light, perhaps CARICOM will abandon its haste to recognize the interim government and return to its more principled stance.

This analysis was prepared by Kirstin Kramer, COHA Research Associate

August 12, 2004

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