AT least three Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders yesterday
signalled their unwillingness to sit with Haiti’s interim leader,
Gerard Latortue, unless he repudiates his recent attacks on the
Community and distances himself from the gunmen who helped overthrow
Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The leaders of St Vincent, St Lucia and Antigua were miffed by what
they deem to be Latortue’s inappropriate political and diplomatic
behaviour. But, like Jamaica, they also felt that Caricom needed to
first settle the issue of the recognition of Haiti’s interim
government before the Community could have substantial conversations
with Latortue on regional issues.

At the same time, Ralph Gonsalves, the St Vincent prime minister,
criticised the Organisation of American States (OAS) representative
in Haiti, David Lee, for sharing a platform with rebel leaders in the
town of Gonaives on Saturday where Latortue heaped praise on the
anti-Aristide partisans.

“(I have) a serious problem with an official of the Organisation of
American States sharing a platform with Latortue at what was a
political rally in Gonaives,” Gonsalves told the Observer.

OAS officials could not be contracted last night for comment on
Gonsalves’ remarks and on whether Lee has breached protocol, but Lee
had defended his action as part of the process of reconciliation in

Just over a week ago, Latortue announced a freeze on Haiti’s
relations with Caricom and publicly rebuked the 15-member Community,
to protest the posture of Caribbean leaders over the controversial
departure of Aristide from Haiti.

Latortue was also angered by Jamaica’s decision to give temporary
asylum to Aristide – who, initially, was exiled to the Central
African Republic – and failed to show for a meeting he had requested
with Prime Minister P J Patterson to discuss the Haiti situation.
Patterson is the out-going chairman of Caricom.

But at the weekend, officials at Caricom’s secretariat in Guyana said
that Latortue, doing an about-face, signalled to Caricom officials at
the Community’s secretariat in Guyana a wish to attend the regional
summit that opens in St Kitts on Thursday.

But Gonsalves, St Lucia’s Kenny Anthony and Antigua’s Bird said that
they could not easily envisage such a meeting with Latortue until his
repudiation of the attacks on Caricom, of which Haiti became a member
in 1998 under former president, Rene Preval.

Antigua is due to take over the chairmanship of Caricom at the St
Kitts summit, but Bird’s governing Antigua Labour Party faces a
general election today, which the premier believes he will win.

“Once my party is re-elected to office at Tuesday’s election I have
no intention of presiding at the Caricom meeting with Latortue in
attendance until we settle, on a matter of principle, the issue of
recognition of a government in Haiti in view of how President
Aristide was ousted from office…” Bird told the Observer.

It is likely that a similar position will be adopted by Baldwin
Spencer if his United Progressive Party (UPP) is able to break the
ALP’s 28-year hold on power.

Aristide claimed that he was all but kidnapped and hustled out of
Haiti by American forces, a charge the Americans denied. The US said
that it provided Aristide safe passage and transportation out of
Haiti in the face of advancing rebels.

Caricom called for an international investigation of Aristide’s
allegation and dubbed his overthrow a “dangerous precedent” for
elected leaders everywhere.

Gonsalves, who had a meeting with Aristide in Jamaica at the weekend,
said he hoped the Community “will press ahead with its original
decision to have an independent international investigation into the
circumstances of Aristide’s sudden departure from office”.

He also slammed Latortue’s behaviour.

“Mr Latortue has shown tremendous insensitivity in first announcing
the freezing of Haiti’s membership in Caricom, then to travel to
Gonaives on Saturday to hail known murderers and political thugs as
liberators and now want to meet with Community Heads of Government to
discuss the Haitian situation,” Gonsalves said. “I am totally opposed
to any such meeting with him at this time.”

St Lucia’s Anthony said he was “puzzled” that Latortue would want to
be facilitated with a meeting of Caricom leaders without “any public
repudiation” of his previous statements about the Community and
purported recall of Haiti’s ambassador to Jamaica.

According to Anthony, even if Latortue shows up in St Kitts he must
know that “under the prevailing circumstances” there could be no
“official recognition” by Caricom of the interim administration in

Although he spoke less harshly than the eastern Caribbean prime
ministers, Jamaica’s Foreign Minister K D Knight, on Sunday indicated
that while Latortue would possibly be welcomed to discuss the
political process in Haiti, it was unlikely that he would be allowed
at the regional table until Caricom leaders settle the issue of
recognition of his administration.