PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti · President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, running a country with no parliament, a faltering economy, shuttered schools and almost daily violent street clashes, was host to a delegation of leaders from the Caribbean Community in hopes of negotiating an end to the country’s festering crisis.
Led by Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, the group is proposing the Haitian leader disarm violent street gangs that have clashed with opposition groups for four months, leaving about 50 people dead.
We have a responsibility as a government to disarm, the legal way, all those who have illegal weapons,” Aristide said following closed-door meetings with the delegation. The Caricom leaders left Aristide with an invitation for further talks with
“We will take steps beginning shortly with our meeting in
Over the past year, a four-year stand-off between Aristide’s government and opposition political parties over contested parliamentary races in 2000 has degenerated into a full-fledged national movement as the economy worsened and human rights abuses have risen.
Aristide is calling for elections to resolve the crisis while the opposition, citing security and corruption concerns, claims elections are impossible with Aristide in office. So far, the
50 dead, 100 injured
Unrest and protests in the capital and a number of provincial cities have left almost 50 dead and more than 100 injured in the past four months. Most are victims of police brutality or attacks by bands of armed pro-government thugs, some of them boys. Opposition zealots have also killed or injured smaller numbers.
For the past three years the Organization of American States, Haiti’s Catholic bishops, the Papal Nuncio and others have had meetings, brokered negotiations and set up special commissions, but so far all parties have come up empty-handed, and the problems in this country of 8 million continue.
OAS deadlines have passed, and the body’s resolutions calling for the government to take specific steps aimed at improving security or curbing rights abuses have been in large part ignored. A “consensus” electoral council that was to begin planning polling sites on Nov. 4, 2002, failed to get off the ground when opposition parties, churches and rights groups refused to designate representatives, saying the security environment had to be improved first.
In the meantime, almost all parliamentary terms expired on Jan. 12, leaving the country under the control of Aristide and his Cabinet. The
Caricom’s newest, most populous and poorest member. The community wants to make sure
Last week in
“We told the three prime ministers that we did not come to the
`Council of wise men’
Instead, the group presented a plan that calls for Aristide’s resignation and for a “council of wise men” to run the country and oversee eventual elections. They also vowed to continue protests until Aristide leaves office.
While Caricom representatives said they oppose “coups d’état” they do have proposals for both sides to consider.
The body wants the government to disarm pro-government thugs, reign in police, assure protection of civil liberties and establish security conditions that would allow for elections this year.
Many of the Caricom proposals are the exactly the same as those listed in OAS resolutions from more than a year ago.
“Caricom is extremely concerned with the deteriorating situation in
No intervention plans
Still, Granderson stressed, the Caribbean Community is not planning an intervention, brokering negotiations or providing what some media reports call a “plan.”
Instead, the body is “putting forward a number of ideas” in the hopes of “finding a way forward,” he said.
On Friday, government spokesmen and Cabinet members said they had no reaction to the proposals outlined in the media, saying Aristide would respond after meeting with Christie.
Fatton thinks that fair elections are impossible at the moment, but he is also concerned with the opposition’s focus on forcing Aristide from power. In 200 years,
“That’s a pattern we’ve had forever, and it’s not clear we can escape from it,” said Fatton, head of the university’s political science department and author of
Aristide probably will not agree to leave before his term ends in 2006, he said, but because of the growing protests at home and rising criticism abroad, “he’s probably ready to make a deal.”