Originally: Mitchell not optimistic about Haiti talks

Mitchell not optimistic about Haiti talks

Opposition party against negotiations

By Mindell Small

Guardian Staff Reporter

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said talks in Haiti had encountered some difficulty after CARICOM members could not convince the Haitian opposition party to continue negotiations with the government.

Mitchell along with Bahamian Ambassador to the United States, Joshua Sears was part of a delegation, that engaged in three days of talks with officials in the poverty-stricken country. The talks ended Wednesday and included a wide cross-section of Haitian leaders in opposition, business, church and civic groups.

Part of the goal of the 15-nation CARICOM is to work toward a resolution to the Haiti crisis. CARICOM Deputy Secretary General Colin Granderson headed the fact-finding mission and Ambassador Sears was part of the technical team.

The team met with Haiti’s president Jean-Bertrand Aristide Wednesday to push for an end to hostilities and the resumption of negotiations between the two groups.

Ironically, both the opposition, “Convergence Democratique” party and the governing “Fanmi Lavalas” party had agreed that free and fair elections should have taken place by the summer of 2003. However, Organisation of American States representatives, monitoring the situation, concluded that such elections were unlikely as Haiti failed to form a credible and independent Provisional Electoral Council by a March 30 deadline. The elections, as predicted, never occurred.

The need for talks have now intensified as the mandate of the parliament in Haiti expires on Monday and since the country is in no position to conduct fresh elections at this time, the Haitian Constitution allows the president to govern by decree.

Minister Mitchell said the delegation could not convince opposition members to continue talks with the governing party as they believed that continuing negotiations would lead to an exacerbation of already-high tensions.

Prime Minister Perry Christie stressed the importance of The Bahamas making every attempt to stabilize that country. Following his one-day trip to Haiti, to celebrate its bicentennial, he said the stability of Haiti was crucial to its future relations with The Bahamas and added that a stable Haiti would be in a better position to control the flow of illegal immigrants to The Bahamas.

“I have come away from my short visit to the republic of Haiti with the strong impression that The Bahamas can best further its own interest through the pursuit of our own, separate initiatives with the government of Haiti, as we are the State within CARICOM with the most significant Haitian migrant population,” he said.

He said that out of all the countries in CARICOM, The Bahamas bears the heaviest economic burden of the Haitian problem and that the Minister Mitchell would be following up with the Haitian government to achieve the best set of initiatives between the two countries.

Minister Fred Mitchell has since left Haiti and is presently in Mexico, returning to The Bahamas on Wednesday.

The Foreign Affairs minister reiterated the importance of the Haiti talks and said The Bahamas had the most to gain or lose depending on the outcome.

Haiti was the first Caribbean country to gain independence. Dubbed the first black-led republic, the former French colony celebrated as it broke away from the European nation on January 1, 1804.

However, its independence did not bring it economic prowess. In fact, Haiti has been ranked the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization also categorized Haiti as the third hungriest nation in the world, behind Afghanistan and Somalia, which topped the list. The three states have are the highest undernourished in the world, in terms of population with Somalia at 75 percent, Afghanistan at 70 percent and Haiti at 62 percent.

Haiti’s social problems run very deep and many people living there, as the opposition party, feel that talks are a waste of time. The major social issues stem from the huge wealth gap between the impoverished Creole-speaking black majority and the French-speaking mulattos, approximately 1 percent of whom own about half of the country’s wealth.