Aristide agrees to steps to ease crisis
The Haitian leader, at a meeting with Caribbean leaders, agrees to measures including a larger role for opponents and the repeal of curbs on protest.


KINGSTON, JamaicaHaitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide agreed Saturday to give opponents, demanding his resignation, a role in his government and to immediately rescind a controversial decree restricting where they can demonstrate to help end the country’s political crisis.

The commitments were part of a series of ”confidence-building measures” Aristide agreed to carry out within four to six weeks to help ease escalating political unrest and clear the way for elections. His progress will be monitored by the Organization of American States and leaders from the 15-member regional bloc, CARICOM. He is expected to give a progress report by early March.

Aristide also accepted proposals to begin disarming armed gangs; to publicly destroy illegal weapons; to work with the OAS and others in formulating clear rules for demonstrations; to release within the week all people who are arbitrarily being detained in Haiti; and to process demonstrators who have been arrested in no more than 48 hours.

This is not the first time the Haitian president has given his word to the international community. But following marathon talks here, led by Jamaican prime minister and CARICOM Chairman P.J. Patterson, Aristide said he intends to keep his promise.

”This is for the benefit of our country and we must move this way,” Aristide said about implementing the measures, which require him to replace Haiti‘s prime minister with someone more neutral and favorable to both sides.

”We are trying to do our best to have Haiti have a new future, from moving from one elected president to another one,” he said. “If we have that peaceful way to move through an electoral process, implementing those measures and having the opposition and Lavalas fulfilling their commitment, of course we all would benefit. This is what I would call a win-win situation for all of us.”

At least one member of the opposition was skeptical. In Haiti on Saturday night, Andy Apaid, a leading figure of opposition Group 184, said he would have to see the full text of any commitment from Aristide before he would comment. But Apaid expressed wariness about Aristide’s ability to stick to agreements. He cited attacks on constitutional rights to peaceful protests.

”We need to be able to march without fear,” Apaid said.

The agreements were reached late Saturday after a day of talks first between Aristide and the leaders of the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. They later joined a larger group, which totaled about 50 people including the head of Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party, Jonas Petit, and observers from the United States, Canada, the European Union and the OAS.

Aristide, who was accompanied by two members of his private cabinet and four government ministers, said their discussions focused on the need for both sides to find a compromise and move ahead. He called on his opponents to help him break the 3-year-old political impasse that has in recent months led to a string of violent street demonstrations and deaths.

”Now is the time for compromise,” he said.

A CARICOM delegation will travel to Haiti this week to meet with opposition leaders.

Aristide has agreed to make public the findings of several ongoing inquiries, including those into the Dec. 5 attack at the State University of Haiti by pro-Aristide militants and the destruction of radio transmission tower equipment earlier this month.

”We hope as a result of the confidence-building measures and the establishment of a conducive security climate, the opposition will be encouraged to participate,” Patterson said.