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22 août 2004

- Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Aug. 20, 2004 (IPS/GIN) — As the split within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) lingers over whether the regional grouping should engage the interim administration in Haiti, there are fears the nations may find themselves isolated internationally on the issue.

« Our current diplomacy on this Haitian issue is too limited, » warns Vaughan Lewis, a professor in the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

« It is too bound, conceptually, within our perspectives of the power of the United States. It is not recognising an evolving multilateralism that can be beneficial to us in the medium to long run, if we engage with other significant countries early, » he told IPS.

Lewis says Caribbean countries are mistakenly seeing the Haitian crisis — sparked by the U.S. ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February and the swift dispatch of a United Nations-sanctioned military force days later — « as a narrowly CARICOM issue ».

« I believe that CARICOM’s decision-making on this matter, even though our institution is an independent or autonomous one, should be informed by the diplomacy of critical intermediary countries like Brazil ; and also those of Canada, whose perspectives on her own intervention in the crisis would have been informed by the fact of a large Haitian population, a Haitian diaspora, in that country, » added Lewis.

Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, the current CARICOM chairman, has said it is possible the region’s leaders will meet in a special summit before November to finally reach a consensus position on whether to engage the U.S.-backed interim administration in Port-au-Prince.

« We do not wish to see any division in CARICOM on any issue, » he told IPS, acknowledging the « delicate » position the region finds itself, particularly after CARICOM leaders failed to meet an Aug. 16 deadline to indicate their collective stand on Haiti.

« You are quite aware that a couple of leaders have expressed themselves publicly on the issue, » he added.

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was the first to publicly indicate he opposes the recommendation of five Caribbean foreign ministers, who returned from Haiti in July indicating they were pleased with progress being made by Gerard Latortue’s government to uphold justice and to hold elections next year.

Stressing that he has nothing personally against Latortue and is not holding a brief for Aristide, Gonsalves was adamant that his stand on Haiti is based on principle.

« As far as I am concerned, what there is in Haiti does not pass muster for CARICOM, » he told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). « Unequivocal evidence » is needed from the ground of the country’s return to democracy, and that opposition groups, including Aristide’s Lavalas Party, are engaging in normal political activities, he added.

Gonsalves’ position has been supported by Dominica, Guyana and St Lucia. The latter’s position is that CARICOM’s 15 nations should not be rushed into re-engaging the Latortue administration.

Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, maintains he was taken from Haiti on a U.S.-ordered jet, a charge Washington has denied. Soon after, CARICOM called publicly for the United Nations to investigate the leader’s exit, a request never heeded, due largely to pressure from U.S. and French officials, according to diplomats.

CARICOM has also urged the Organisation of American States to assess the « unconstitutional alteration » of the government in Haiti, a process that is ongoing, an OAS official told IPS this week.

According to acting St Lucian Prime Minister Mario Michel, « We believe that the situation should be properly studied and a course of action taken by CARICOM that is in the best interest of Haiti and the region as a whole. »

« At this juncture, we think it is premature for CARICOM or individual members to rush to a position of recognising the existing regime in Haiti, » he added Wednesday.

Michel was reacting to statements by the Barbados government, which said Tuesday it is prepared to « engage directly with the interim administration, both bilaterally and in partnership with other like-minded states, within the context of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission », should CARICOM fail to reach consensus.

Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur said from the outset of the crisis that his island firmly supported the « position of principle taken by CARICOM, » while giving « equal consideration to the need to support the people of Haiti in their search for a peaceful solution to the political crisis. »

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said in a statement Wednesday that re-engaging the interim administration « in my view does not in any way destroy the stance that we had taken initially : that we could not under the circumstances allow this interim regime to be welcomed into the halls of CARICOM. »

Antigua and Barbados are among a dozen CARICOM nations, including the Bahamas, Grenada and Jamaica, which have been pushing to re-engage the Government of Haiti.

Arthur has warned that CARICOM cannot expect to be a partner in Haiti’s reconstruction if it is not prepared to fully engage the Latortue administration.

« To fail to do so would in our view be an amazing departure from the principle and practice of diplomatic relations, and would leave us on the periphery of actions of vital relevance to a member of our community in whose future development and prosperity we have a vested interest, » Arthur said.

Lewis agrees. He says the region might find itself isolated if it continues to look for a solution to Haiti’s presence in CARICOM outside of a diplomatic engagement of countries within this hemisphere and beyond.

« CARICOM leaders, in this time of great volatility in our international affairs, need to look at the bigger picture again. »

« They must use the Haitian crisis to engage France, and therefore the European Union, in a diplomacy that will contribute to framing the terms of the new Regional Economic Participation Agreement that we have started to negotiate with them, so that assistance to Haiti becomes, in part, a means of strengthening the regional integration process, which must, inevitably, encompass a reviving Haiti, » Lewis argued.

« If the French are favourable to this longer-term view of the Haitian crisis, then there is no point in opposing, for any length of time, the interim government’s presence in the CARICOM system. Our relationship with Haiti would be, additionally a part of the diplomacy of developing the CARICOM-French-EU relationship of the future, » he added.

But Mitchell sounded a warning note, in response to this week’s acquittal in a Haitian court of Louis Jodel Chamblain — a leader of the rebellion that sparked Aristide’s ouster earlier this year — of the 1993 murder of a minister in the former president’s government.

« Obviously that cannot help, because from reports it appears that the due process may not have been followed and is certainly something we in the region would be concerned about, » said Mitchell.

« So clearly everything that happens positively helps the cause of engagement in Haiti, and everything that does not happen in that direction certainly complicates matters. »

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