Thursday 15, January-2004
Analysis by Rickey Singh

THE GOVERNMENTS of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continue, encouragingly, to keep faith with Haiti and not be overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness in the face of an elusive solution to the worsening political crisis which the crafty President Jean Bertrand Arisitde seems in no hurry to end.

They are doing so even as industrial unrest and violent political clashes spread on the streets of Haiti, resulting in more deaths and injuries, and demands escalate for the resignation of President Aristide, whose constitutional term ends in 2006.

A four-member CARICOM fact-finding mission was late last week winding up its assignment in Haiti to gather more information from the key political players ? government, opposition parties and civil society.

The mission?s report goes to CARICOM chairman, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica for further action this week. But time seems to be running out for President Aristide ? unless there can be a dramatic breakthrough soon for fresh dialogue between his administration and a now more vocal and strident opposition of parties and civil society groups.

The fact-finding mission to Haiti represents the Community?s latest initiative to broker a resolution to the political crisis that is rooted in the results of the May 2000, general elections, swept by Aristide?s Lavalas Party, but deemed fraudulent by the combined opposition forces.

After three years, more than 100 lives lost in political violence, and many more injured, among them murdered journalists and social commentators, numerous meetings involving representatives of CARICOM and the Organisation of American States (OAS), the cynics may well ask: Why another CARICOM fact-finding mission?

Basically, what there is to find has been quite evident since the first post-2000 joint CARICOM-OAS ?peace? mission went to Port-au-Prince. It is the inflexibility of Aristide and his Lavalas Party, and that also of the ?Democratic Convergence?, an umbrella grouping of opposition forces.

Greater blame, however, undoubtedly rests with Aristide, the once popular ?priest of the people? who seems to enjoy his manipulative capacity for political survival.

Hence, his charming assurances to CARICOM leaders, whenever they meet, that usually fail to materialise once back in his Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince.

Getting a credible electoral process that is acceptable to the opposition is at the core of the current political impasse. Aristide?s ?Anancy-like? manoeuvres in the creation of a new Provisional Electoral Council and adjusting parliamentary representation, have failed to win confidence at home and abroad.

As the situation deteriorates with escalating violence, spreading fear and more of the misery that the povery-stricken masses have lived with for more years than they care to remember in that poorest and oldest nation in the Western Hemisphere, no compromise arrangement of significance is yet in sight.

South African help

Now that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa ? who was in Haiti last week for the launch of the official bicentennial independence anniversary celebrations ? has pledged his government?s help to end the political violence and find a solution to the crisis over electoral democracy, perhaps Caricom may have a significant ally in its own quest for a peace formula in that crisis-plagued Caribbean state.

Of course, Mbeki himself has come under criticisms inside Haiti as well as at home for travelling to Port-au-Prince to be in the company of Aristide at the official celebratory ceremonies, without having publicly uttered a word previously against the reports of state-instigated political violence, and the urgent need for meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition forces.

However, having failed in his various attempts to get President Robert Mugabe to find a compromise settlement with the opposition in Zimbabwe, it is to be hoped that Mbeki could prove influential in leaning on Aristide, in co-operation with the opposition forces in Haiti, and in collaboration with Caricom, to bring an end to the nightmare situation in that newest member of our regional economic integration movement.

Twinning idea

It was the Mbeki government?s laudable idea of twinning the 10th anniversary celebration of South Africa as the youngest black republic of the world ? by the ultimate collapse of the heinous apartheid system ? with Haiti’s bicentennial anniversary as the oldest black nation of the global community that explained his personal presence in Port-au-Prince last week.

Similar to the approach previously taken by CARICOM, in its various interventions in Haiti over the past three years, Mbeki met with representatives of both the Aristide government and the opposition forces.

He left Haiti with the promise to use the good offices of his government to achieve a peaceful resolution. In that promise he would know that he shares, warts and all, common ground with the governments of Caricom.

It is appreciated, as noted by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who welcomed the New Year on his visit to Trinidad and Tobago last week, that in the final analysis, the problems of Haiti must be solved by Haitians themselves, those at home and of the diaspora.

?Having developed the culture of intervention ? by prior consent ? in the domestic affairs of a member state at times of political crisis, Guyana being the classic example, followed by St Vincent and the Grenadines, CARICOM cannot afford to sit on the fence while Haiti remains engulfed in political violence, strikes and widening conflicts and fear for the future.

President George W. Bush does not have Haiti on his agenda of countries on which he is focused to satisfy America?s national interest. And under his post-9/11 ?Patriot Act?, Haitians fleeing their homeland for the United States, could face even more discrimination and greater trouble, while Cubans seeking political asylum would continue to be favoured.

A combination of the electoral malpractices that came with the 2000 elections and a subsequent freeze in foreign aid, amounting to some US$500 million, have contributed to the deterioration in the political situation in Haiti, where keeping hope alive can best be explained only by suffering Haitians. Against this background, CARICOM?s chairman, Prime Minister P. J. Patterson of Jamaica, indicated to President Aristide on December 30, the approaches the Community intends to take in its latest mediation effort in the long search for a resolution to Haiti?s political crisis.

The approaches include consideration of the findings of the four-member fact-finding mission from CARICOM currently in Haiti, as well as an offer to host a special meeting, possibly in Jamaica, of Aristide and other key Haitian political and civic organization players with a number of CARICOM heads of government in attendance.

Aristide has already signaled his willingness to participate in such a meeting, and a response is now being awaited from opposition and civic society representatives in Haiti.