Originally: Hints at Caricom’s growing frustration with Haitian leader

In the toughest language yet from a Caribbean Community leader on Haiti, Prime Minister P J Patterson yesterday raised the possibility of regional sanctions against Haiti President Jean Bertrand Aristide, if he stonewalls on Caricom proposals to end the political crisis in his country at talks planned for Jamaica within days.

Patterson, speaking on the Power I06 FM morning talk show, Independent Talk, also called for the release from prison of a number of people in
Haiti, including students who he said were held in “arbitrary detention” on the island since December, after the eruption of daily demonstrations in the country against Aristide’s rule.

Haiti has been under international pressure to reform its political process and hold free legislative elections following what was acknowledged to have been a flawed vote for some members of the national assembly in 2000.

But the government and the Haitian opposition have been unable to agree on how to reform the election machinery, and violent protests broke out late last year as time drew near for the expiry of the life of two-thirds of the Senate, for which Aristide has said an election will be held within six months.


However, the Opposition has said that Aristide, too, should go, two years ahead of the end of his term.

Earlier this month leaders of Caricom, a political and economic group of 14
Caribbean countries, met with the Haitian opposition to discuss proposals to end the crisis and Patterson, the Community’s chairman, is to now meet Aristide hoping to take the process forward.



The earlier meeting was the first time that the Haitian Opposition had had direct dialogue with Caricom, which they believe gives uncritical support to Aristide whom his opponents cast as a despot.


But Patterson warned yesterday that Caricom could end up holding Aristide’s government at arms length if the Jamaica talks fail to achieve tangible results. “We are .making it clear that the consequence of a failure (by Aristide) to respond positively to the proposals we have made would result in our considering whether Haiti is in compliance with (Caricom’s) Charter for Civil Society,” said Patterson.


Additionally, if Haiti failed to implement the resolution of the Organisation of American States’ resolutions – calling for a legitimate election council and democratic elections – then, Patterson said, “we certainly would have to be looking within that body (for) what sanctions should be applied, and President Aristide in those circumstances could not count on the support of Caricom”.


Caricom has in the past strongly criticised the withholding of economic aid from Haiti by multilateral institutions, which claim that the government has not done enough to reform its economy and to strengthen civil society. But more recently, statements by Caricom, which Haiti joined in 1997, have grown sharper on the need for Haiti to solve its problems although they have not been condemnatory of Haiti.


Yesterday’s remarks by Patterson have been the most forthright yet.

Referring to critics of Caricom’s policy on Haiti, Patterson said: “There has been a perception in certain quarters in Haiti that Caricom backs President Aristide, regardless. This is not so. Haiti is a member of the OAS. They have passed resolutions in the OAS, and we expect President Aristide to comply with them.”


Patterson, in what amounted to an unprecedented criticism of a fellow Caricom member, also made a pointed reference to rights abuses in Haiti. “We are insisting that those who are held in arbitrary detention should be released, and particularly a number of students who have been held in custody since the events of the 5th of December, we also feel that they should be released,” he said.