Friday, February 13, 2004

Jamaica has sent the correct signal to the Haitian opposition that any government which comes to power in that country by extra-constitutional means will not be recognised by Kingston.

We believe that Jamaica’s stance largely reflects the position of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), whose leaders have been attempting to broker an end to the political crisis in Haiti.

It is time for others, particularly the United States, to send a similar message to those who, by their continued demonstrations and political intransigence, foment violence in Haiti. Indeed, this obduracy and recalcitrance is pushing Haiti towards the brink of civil war, if it is not as yet over the edge.

The unfortunate thing is that it need not have come to this – bringing a new round of ruin to the long-suffering Haitian people.

Of course, the Haitian opposition will blame President Aristide for the country’s problem; for his inflexibility, his seeming inability to have forged a national consensus and for his failure to fix the obvious problems with the country’s democracy.

We, to a substantial degree, agree with those criticisms of Mr Aristide and have made some of them ourselves. But that is not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

For, while Mr Aristide has not displayed the expansive inclusiveness that was managed by Nelson Mandela in the immediate post-apartheid South Africa, he had good reason to be wary of many of those in the shadows of the Haitian opposition movement. Some reflect and represent the kinds of people who facilitated, if not encouraged, his overthrow in the early 1990s and the socio-economic group who have backed, and benefitted from, past rightist dictatorships.

All this notwithstanding, we believe that the accords reached in Kingston a fortnight ago, when President Aristide initialled his support for a package of initiatives outlined by Caricom leaders, provided a way out of Haiti’s political log jam.
President Aristide insisted on serving out the remaining two years of his presidency, whose legitimacy, whatever the flaws in the vote, no one could credibly question. But he did give way on several issues.

For instance, there was an undertaking to quickly deal with civil liberties issues such as establishing new, even-handed rules for demonstrations and the release of people detained during protests. Mr Aristide also agreed to name a broad-based advisory body and a similarly chosen prime minister and government, which would remove the need for his ruling by decree during the hiatus until the next legislative elections. A system was also to be established to disarm gangs.

Mr Aristide had a six-week time-frame to achieve much.
Rather than helping Caricom to hold Mr Aristide to his promise and creating the environment for fixing the electoral system – which can’t happen until they name their members to the election commission – the opposition maintained their daily protests, which have escalated out of control. The violence now appears to have its own dynamic and Haiti is now facing that kind of crisis that followed the overthrow of the Duvalier dictatorship.

The Haitian people deserve better than having armed thugs taking over their towns and cities, and this bitter, bloody stand-off between rival political groups.

The country needs mature leadership and democratic political action, which will not be accomplished by having President Aristide leaving office by force.

The United States has often sought to take the moral high-ground in this region it has declared its third border. We now call the United States to account.

More than telling its citizens to leave Haiti, it must tell the Haitian opposition that it will tolerate nothing less than democratic behaviour. After today’s meeting between Foreign Minister Knight and the Caricom delegation with Assistant Secretary Noriega, we expect to hear that Washington has made it clear to the opposition that they can expect no reward from America for