By Rickey Singh *Nation Newspaper Barbados
March 19, 2004
The United States-approved interim Prime Minister of Haiti, Gerard LaTortue, has shown a surprising lack of appreciation for diplomacy and the historical nature of Haitian-Caribbean Community relations when he announced on Monday a freeze of Haiti's membership in CARICOM. It is an unwise move, however engineered.
While official focus in Washington, primary sponsor of the interim regime in Haiti, as well as in Port-au-Prince, is expediently designed to specifically blame Jamaica for hosting ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the reality is that the George Bush administration has gone on the offensive to foment division within CARICOM on the issue. But it will not succeed.
None can be so politically obtuse not to understand the real reason: It has to do with independent nations of CARICOM exercising their sovereign right, collectively, to openly question the circumstances of Aristide's dramatic departure from power and flight into exile on February 29.
Having decided at the Kingston emergency summit of Community Heads of Government to call for a probe into the circumstances of Aristide's fall from power, it was only logical for the Jamaica Prime Minister to have granted the request of the Haitian leader for a temporary ten-week stay with his family. He had signalled this initiative to CARICOM colleagues as well as to the United States, Canada and France.
It would have been laughable, tragic really, had no CARICOM country, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago or else, agreed to grant a temporary stay to Aristide and his family, while the United States continues to refuse asylum to fleeing Haitian refugees while still "sheltering" former Haitian political thugs and killers.
CARICOM leaders are finalising arrangements for their 15th Inter-Sessional Meeting next week in St Kitts at which they are expected to press ahead with their earlier decision to request a probe, under United Nations auspices, to determine whether Aristide voluntarily "resigned", or was forced out of office by the United States and France in the face of an armed rebellion.
Gerard LaTortue may be de facto Prime Minister, but his own legitimacy remains an issue in the continuing Haitian crisis, having been sworn in by an interim President yet to be ratified by a non-functioning parliament.
In acting rather precipitately – under suspected Washington influence – to freeze Haiti's relationship with CARICOM, knowing that the Community does not at present "recognise" the regime of which he is a part, LaTortue may well have contributed to the further isolation of Haiti.
LaTortue had requested a meeting with CARICOM's current chairman, Prime Minister Patterson then declared he would no longer do so. He then set about establishing a so-called "unity" cabinet that, astonishingly, excluded any representation from Aristide's broadly-based and still very popular Lavalas Party.
Within days, both Prime Minister Patterson and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela were separately declaring that their respective government did not "recognise" the interim regime in Port-au-Prince.
Chavez also said he stood ready to grant asylum to "the lawfully elected" President of Haiti. And Prime Minister Patterson has reminded that any question of recognition of the post-Aristide regime in Haiti would have to be a collective CARICOM decision at next week's Inter-Sessional Meeting in St Kitts. I do not see this happening – not next week, in the prevailing circumstances. We await the next move.