Observer Caribbean correspondent

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Jamaica’s prime minister, P J Patterson, will this week lead a delegation of four Caribbean heads of government in two days of talks with Haiti’s Opposition and civil society representatives as the Caribbean Community tries to resolve that country’s political crisis.

The meeting, to be held in The Bahamas tomorrow and Wednesday, will also be attended by prime ministers Perry Christie of The Bahamas (host); Kenny Anthony of St Lucia and Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago.

Representatives of President George Bush of the United States; Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada; as well as a representative of the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Cesar Gaviria, will attend as observers.

This latest initiative to find an urgent solution to the deteriorating political crisis in Haiti follows a meeting held with President Jean Bertrand Aristide by Caricom leaders in Monterrey, Mexico, during the two-day Special Summit of the Americas last week.

Patterson, the chairman of Caricom, had told Aristide in a December 30 letter that Caricom was concerned about the growing political instability in the country, which threatened good governance and caused loss of lives.

The groundwork for the meeting was, however, laid by a four-member fact-finding mission to Haiti, led by Colin Granderson, Caricom assistant secretary-general. The mission also included Jamaica’s ambassador to Venezuela, Dr Matthew Beaubrun; St Lucia’s ambassador to the United States, Sonia Johnny; and Joshua Sears, the ambassador of The Bahamas to the United States.

Prime Minister Patterson told the Observer in a telephone interview Friday that last week’s meeting with President Aristide was “encouraging” with the new approaches being taken to end the political impasse in Haiti.

Patterson has, in the meantime, attributed the deadlock in trying to resolve the crisis to a “lack of trust” between the Opposition and Government.

This week’s meeting will be the most significant development in the long search by Caricom and the OAS for a resolution of the Haitian crisis since the flawed elections of May 2002.

Sources told the Observer Friday that depending on the outcome of the Nassau meeting, Caricom will have separate meetings with President Aristide and representatives of his Lavalas Party at a mutually agreed venue.

Meanwhile, Patterson confirmed Friday that Caricom had been in contact with the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who earlier this month pledged to do “whatever possible” to help find a solution to the Haitian crisis, in co-operation with the Caribbean Community.

South Africa’s foreign minister recently travelled to Kingston where he discussed the situation in Haiti with Patterson.

Last week, Aristide announced that he would call legislative elections within six months, but said a date had not been set because it was necessary to speak with the Opposition to find the best time.

Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, and his Lavalas Party have, since the May 2002 elections, been facing mounting protests from citizens who claimed that the elections were fixed.

The unrest overshadowed the country’s recent bicentennial celebrations marking its independence from France. Dozens of people have been killed in the protests.