Monday, March 22, 2004
This newspaper, as we expect is the case with all well-thinking and democracy-minded persons, is saddened by the turn of events in Haiti. For the second time in a dozen years last month, an experiment in democracy in that country was cruelly aborted.

But while we did not expect that the coup d’etat against Jean-Bertrand Aristide would be reversed, we had hoped that the newly-installed government of Mr Gerard Latortue would send early, and clear, signals of intent to take Haiti back on a track of democracy and reconciliation.

Haiti, it is obvious, needs to break this cycle of violence and instability if it is to begin to deliver to its people, and the others to whom it offered inspiration, the great promise of 1804 when slaves defeated slave owners and the armies of France to declare a nation that was to have its foundation in the ideals of equality and respect.

Democracy, however, demands a politics based on discourse, negotiation and compromise, as well as political institutions which are sustained and predictable, with all participants adhering to the same rules.

It for these reasons that we believed the Caribbean Community (Caricom) initiative on the Haitian crisis offered the best hope for starting the process towards a sustained democracy in Haiti. Its essential core was a demand for respect for democratic institutions, rather than rewarding violence.

Unfortunately, the Caricom initiative was undermined and derailed. We had hoped, having been led to believe this, that the remnants of the Caricom process would have be salvaged and implemented in a fashion to ensure the launch of a new Haitian democracy.

We are sure that we would be forgiven by Mr Latortue and his key backers if, at this stage, we declare ourselves to be less than sanguine about the direction of his interim administration and to suggest to Mr Latortue’s critical backers that he begin to take stock.

We urge this reflection out of fear that Haiti could descend into a sectarian conflict which will not only deepen marginalisation of that country, but further impair the fragile stability of its Caribbean neighbours and potential partners.

We have previously expressed our disappointment at Mr Latortue’s precipitate declaration of a freeze in relations with Jamaica and Caricom because of Kingston’s decision to provide temporary refuge to Mr Aristide and his family. It was a decision, it seemed to us, of peeve and hubris rather than reflection, thought and analysis and the clear appreciation of the necessity of small states to create coalitions to provide insulation against the tumult of the international environment. Or, in Haiti’s case, Caricom can help it in doing the basics.

We were also surprised at Mr Latortue’s partisan tones about recent developments in Haiti, when as an interim leader hoping to build broad consensus in a deeply cleavaged society, we expected a more measured and soothing approach. Our concern was that Mr Latortue’s rhetoric would serve to alienate Mr Aristide’s supporters and his Lavalas movement, thus making reconciliation all the more difficult. He further weakened the possibilities for creating goodwill by failing to invite Lavalas sympathisers to his Cabinet.

But perhaps the most worrying development of all is how Mr Latortue, on Saturday in the town of Gonaives, plunged into the political fray with the seeming certitude of a man who believes that he enjoys his own mandate and is clear on which side he stands.

He shared a platform with rebel leaders, praised and offered a minute’s silence for a slain gang leader Amiot Metayer, and expressed sympathy only for the anti-Aristide partisans who died in Haiti’s conflict.

This does not bode well for Haiti, neither does the fact that it seems that it is only Aristide supporters who are the ones being arrested for crimes – in and outside of Haiti.
Haiti’s crisis needs even-handedness, delicacy and thoughtful interventions, not partisan divisiveness. It has to move beyond the old culture where the winner takes all.
Perhaps those on whom Mr Latortue relies for his legitimacy need to have a quiet word with him. Hopefully, there are things to be salvaged in Haiti, even the Caricom initiative. Which remains the best plan in town.


“Any such action can only have negative consequences for the long-term economic and social development of the Haitian people,” Patterson said.
The Jamaican prime minister had also pointed out that Haiti’s membership in Caricom was seen as “a major means by which Haiti could be assisted in strengthening its democratic practices and institutions, as well as in lifting the country’s image in the eyes of the international community after many years of isolation”.

At the same time, though, Caricom leaders had signalled that they would be unlikely to recognise a regime that included former death squad leaders and coup plotters who were part of the rebel groups that mounted an insurgency against the Aristide government.

Although Latortue has not named any of these among his 13-member Cabinet, he has shared stages with some, and on Saturday hailed them for their role in helping to remove Aristide.
At a rally in his hometown, Gonaives, Latortue also called for a minute’s silence for a gunman whose killing, after he broke out of jail, helped to launch the anti-Aristide rebellion.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Carrington has confirmed that with the exception of two prime ministers, he expects a “full turn out” of heads of government and foreign affairs and other ministers for the Inter-Sessional Meeting.

Those not expected will be the new prime minister of Dominica, Roosveldt Skerrit, reported to be on a visit to the Far East that includes Taiwan; and Belizean Prime Minister Said Musa.

Apart from Haiti, arrangements for the launch the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, as well as the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice are among matters on the revised draft agenda circulated to member governments.