Prime Minister Christie returns from Haiti , Met with Aristide and opposition

By Mindell Small

Guardian Staff Reporter

Prime Minister Perry Christie arrived in the capital last night following a day trip to Haiti where he met with president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the leader of the opposition in civil society. The meeting in Haiti, planned by CARICOM, was a follow up to the two-day talks held here last week with the two main Haitian opposition groups.

The Prime Minister said he outlined to Aristide all of the points expressed by the opposition during the Nassau talks and discussed ways to best build confidence between the government and the opposing forces.

He referred to the meeting as “fruitful and constructive” and said Aristide announced his agreement with the substance of CARICOM’s proposals.

“CARICOM is very strongly committed to the integrity of this initiative, in other words, to our efforts receiving a response from the government of Haiti that is consistent with the kind of process we have in our own countries,” he said.

At a press conference Mr. Christie said Aristide went into great detail about fundamental issues of a democracy involving the participation of the opposition and civil society to participate in the affairs of Haiti. He said Aristide also spoke about disarming gangs and their removal from demonstration areas.

Mr. Christie said he would contact CARICOM leader and Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson and the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning to inform them of the talks in Port-au-Prince.

An important aspect of his trip involved a meeting at The Bahamas Embassy with Andre Apaid, the leader of the anti-Aristide Civil Society group. He said he found the meeting with Apaid to be both important and encouraging. He then met with the United States Ambassador to Haiti, James Folly and said that meeting was also important and productive.

“We discussed the situation in Haiti towards ensuring that a full understanding existed, that CARICOM’s initiative was intended to be inclusive of local regional and international partners,” he said.

When asked if a time frame for new elections was discussed the Prime Minister said he was not able to give one but that the process would perhaps take a minimum of nine months, but given the present political situation, it is still at crisis stage.

“We are trying to take this step by step. The kinds of elections we are talking about is one in which the opposition participates and therefore there has to be an understanding arrived at by all parties, civil society, opposition forces as to what is fair and what will be accepted,” he said.

He said international security forces would be needed to oversee elections when they are called to ensure that they are conducted in a free and fair manner.

He added that CARICOM Assistant Secretary General Colin Granderson, who headed a fact-finding mission to Haiti earlier this month, will be travelling to the republic again on Wednesday to meet with Roman Catholic bishops. He said it is important that a meeting with the bishops takes place to assist CARICOM in avoiding duplicating its proposals and those of the church.

Mr. Christie pointed out that in all of the meetings with Haiti, observers from the United States, Canada and the Organisation of American States would attend.

“The key to the success of all of these talks and ideas will be continued consultation with the Organisation of American States, the European Union and the United States of America,” he added.

The Prime Minister will be travelling to Kingston, Jamaica on Friday for more talks on Haiti. The meeting on Friday, to be hosted by Jamaican Patterson, will include president Aristide and other CARICOM heads: Prime Minister Manning and St. Lucia‘s Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, who was schedule to participate in the talks here last week but was unable to do so due to pressing domestic matters.

Violence in Haiti

As far as the violence in Haiti is concerned, there seems to be no let up. Last week, it was reported that riot police blocked a protest by a group of students who were demanding the resignation of president Aristide but allowed 5,000 pro-Aristide students to march through the capital demanding that the president complete his term, which ends in 2006.

During their visit here the opposition said schools were closed in Haiti since December however, pro-Aristide supporters said they were not closed, only that the opposition is continuously mounting violent demonstrations making it difficult for students to safely attend classes.

The pro-government supporters said the opposition wants to see schools closed and is encouraging parents to keep their children at home until Aristide resigns.

The friction between the opposition and the government intensified in May 2000 following legislative elections where Aristide was returned to power. The opposition has been demanding that Aristide steps down, accusing him of corruption, mismanagement and rigging the elections.

Haiti has had 32 changes of government by coup since gaining independence in 1804.