ST. KITTS — A summit of Caribbean Community leaders that opens in St. Kitts today will consider whether to recognize Haiti’s new government and what role the 15-member regional bloc will play in the future of its restive member-state.
Before last week, CARICOM heads of government seemed poised to recognize new Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and send humanitarian aid in the wake of a bloody revolt that wracked the nation during most of February.
CARICOM leaders then seemed willing to put aside their concerns over former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s allegations that U.S. officials had forced him to resign on Feb. 29 and ”kidnapped” him to exile in Africa.
ANGRY OVER STATEMENT
But they grew angry amid Latortue statements last week threatening to suspend relations with CARICOM in retaliation for Jamaica’s agreement to host Aristide for a visit and defending the rebels who helped drive him out as “freedom fighters.”
”Many of these people were criminals,” CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington said of the rebels. “He must first repudiate those statements.”
Carrington said late Tuesday that Latortue had indicated a desire to attend the St. Kitts summit during several chats since he made the statements. But Carrington added that he advised Latortue to first clarify his statements.
”If he can clearly clarify that . . . one would be clearer as to the lines that exist” for future Haiti-CARICOM relations, Carrington said. “As of now, the [CARICOM] position . . . is [that Haiti] has suspended relations.”
Latortue on Monday issued a statement saying that he and Carrington had clarified any misunderstandings and that Haiti wanted “more fruitful relations with the countries of CARICOM.”
Carrington said he had not received an official copy of the statement, and that it was unclear whether it would satisfy the CARICOM heads of government.
CARICOM leaders already have received a legal briefing on their options regarding Haiti, the newest and one of two non-English-speaking members of the regional bloc, according to knowledgeable officials.
One possible move is to suspend Haiti’s membership in CARICOM, whose charter requires member nations to have democratically elected governments, the officials said. But such a step would only hurt Haiti and its people in a time of need, the officials conceded.
CARICOM took a leading role in trying to mediate a power-sharing agreement between Aristide and his political opponents in January to end a 3-year-old crisis sparked by disputed legislative elections in 2000. Aristide accepted the deal, but the opposition rejected it — even as the rebels advanced toward the capital, Port-au-Prince.
After Aristide alleged that Washington had forced him out, CARICOM leaders refused to back U.S. and French efforts to help form a new Haitian government or send troops to join the current multinational security force in Haiti. They have said they may reconsider sending troops later, when the situation may be more stable and the United Nations may take over the peacekeeping duties.
”We hope we can still contribute to that process,” Carrington said.
Haiti’s newly appointed minister of commerce, industry and tourism, Danielle Saint Lot, meanwhile said Haiti needs CARICOM to increase its trade and bring in foreign investments.
”I think we really have to work to be a part of Caricom,” she told The Herald in Haiti. “Working with Caricom we will be able to have partnerships.”
In addition to Haiti, CARICOM leaders attending the summit also will discuss progress in their economic and judicial integration efforts and issues related to crime and security.
Herald staff writer Michael A. W. Ottey contributed to this report.