Leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community called on Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Wednesday to immediately dismantle armed gangs, provide clear rules for protest, and seek opposition backing for the country’s next prime minister.
NASSAU – Leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community called on Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Wednesday to immediately dismantle armed gangs, provide clear rules for protest, and seek opposition backing for the country’s next prime minister.
The requests were among a half-dozen proposals that leaders of the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago agreed to during two days of talks in the Bahamas to help solve Haiti’s political crisis.
A 14-member delegation representing the country’s opposition attended the talks. Aristide did not send representatives, but Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie was expected to travel to Port-au-Prince in the next few days to present the proposal to Aristide.
”We believe that Haiti is at a perilous juncture,” said P.J. Patterson, prime minister of Jamaica, who led the talks. “Opposing positions have hardened, and what is really a fight for political power is taking place in the streets with ensuing confrontations and incidents of violence. The potential for greater violence and instability we regard as very elevated.”
A spokeswoman for Aristide said late Wednesday that the government would have no comment until it had received the proposals.
”It seems to me that any proposals made by CARICOM would need to be actually communicated with the government before it could make an informed comment in response,” said Michelle Karshan, the government spokeswoman.
The opposition delegation that attended the talks planned to hold a news conference today to respond to the proposals. But Evans Paul, one of the leaders of the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of political groups opposed to Aristide, said Wednesday that his group would not accept any proposal that does not include Aristide’s resignation.
”This is the position of the opposition,” Paul said in Haiti. “Aristide must go because Aristide is not credible. He has not respected any accords.”
Paul said Prime Minister Yvonne Neptune is not the problem.
”We don’t want to change the prime minister, we want to change Aristide,” said Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince and one-time Aristide supporter. “We don’t want to get rid of Neptune. We want to get rid of Aristide. Aristide is the problem.”
While the heads of government said they were under no illusions that all of Haiti’s problems could be solved with one meeting — especially one at which the government is not present — they still hailed the meetings as a success. Patterson led the discussions along with Christie and Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago.
During the closed-door talks, several opposition leaders said they wanted an international police force in Haiti to help prevent Haiti from becoming a criminal state. The leaders support the idea of a security force, but it was unclear Wednesday how many troops would be needed and for how long.
”The outcome of this meeting cannot be an agreement between CARICOM and the leaders of the opposition groups,” said Patterson, chairman of CARICOM. “They have to take back to their groups and report to them certain proposals that we have put on the table.”
After Christie meets with Aristide in the next few days, the leaders said they hope to schedule a subsequent meeting in Kingston, Jamaica.
Meanwhile, about 20,000 Aristide supporters marched in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday after police fired tear gas into Haiti’s state university, halting an anti-government demonstration, the Associated Press reported.
Students were about to leave for the anti-government march when police blocked them, telling them to take another route.
Several minor injuries were reported, and one medical student was arrested for disturbing the peace, the AP reported.