Originally: Haitian prime minister calls for closer cooperation with Dominican Republic
Haiti’s interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, has called for increased cooperation with neighbouring Dominican Republic, including the establishment of a free trade zone, the elimination of visa requirements and a common policy on drugs and terrorism. Speaking in an interview with a Dominican daily, Latortue highlighted the good relations between the two countries and stressed that this would not change with the impending change in government in the Dominican Republic. He also discussed the proposed reinstitution of the Haitian army and the 2005 elections, saying it was not his government’s responsibility to make decisions on either issue The following is an excerpt from a report on the interview with Latortue by Pastor Vasquez in Port-au-Prince on 9 July: “Latortue proposes establishing free trade area at border, halting use of territories for subversion” published by Dominican newspaper Hoy web site on 10 July; subheadings as published:
Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Haiti’s prime minister, Doctor Gerard Latortue, said yesterday that the island’s two governments should establish a free trade zone and eliminate the visa requirement for people travelling between the two countries.
In an exclusive interview for Hoy in his office at the Prime Ministry, Latortue said that the visa is a requirement inherited from an era of military bureaucracy and is no longer in keeping with the new era of cooperation and understanding between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
He said: “Look, we are not living in times when there are visas between neighbouring peoples. It is an inheritance from a military bureaucracy which used to exist. But if we want to embark on the new period of cooperation, it must be easier for Haitians and Dominicans to be able to travel freely.”
Latortue also believes it is necessary to reach an agreement enabling tourists to circulate freely on the island, with the aim of both countries benefiting from tourism.
In that respect, he revealed that the Haitian government would begin construction of the Cap-Haitien-Dajabon road to help tourists travel about more easily.
He said: “We must have a tourism policy which allows tourists coming to Haiti to spend a day or two in the Dominican Republic, and tourists going to the Dominican Republic to spend a day or two in Haiti.”
He said that the border should be opened for free trade but warned that there must be equitable treatment, proposing that there should be industrial investments between Dominican and Haitian business owners.
Doctor Latortue said: “We could arrive at a type of free trade between the two countries by which we could go to the Dominican Republic, make purchases and return here. And the Dominicans could come here, make purchases and return to the Dominican Republic.”
He said that this free trade must not be intended for the interests of a single country but rather for the benefit of both nations.
He said: “I believe that we must think of the future and of what to do to improve our peoples’ living conditions.”
He added: “Free trade need not be exploitation, with a powerful country exploiting a poor country’s market: that is a thing of the past.”
The Haitian prime minister gave assurances that the transitional government has excellent relations with the Dominican government.
As for his government’s recognition by Santo Domingo, he said that the fact that President Hipolito Mejia has invited him to the Dominican Republic is already recognition of his administration.
He added: “Look, I was invited there by President Mejia, we met in Santo Domingo and we analysed the problem of cooperation together. What does this mean? Recognition. When the president invited me to come and visit Santo Domingo, there, on the national square, we also brought flowers to honour the patriots. I believe we have relations.”
He pointed out that his government has been recognized by the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union, and that the Dominican Republic has given signs of being in agreement with those international agencies.
Latortue revealed that the [Dominican] president-elect, Leonel Fernandez, has a close relationship with his family, indicating that, for that reason, they would understand each other very well when he takes office.
He said: “In the Caribbean, there is a chain of relations among intellectuals. My brother, Paul, is a personal and very close friend of President Fernandez. He was invited to the Dominican Republic too. I have also met President Fernandez many times in Miami when he went there to give lectures.”
He revealed that Fernandez would go to Haiti between 29 and 30 July to meet Haitian business owners and authorities, noting: “We are waiting for the day; it will be at the end of this month. The private sector is greatly interested in his visit, in seeing him and discussing with us the possibility of reinforcing cooperation with the Dominican Republic, primarily economic cooperation but technical as well.”
He said that relations with President Fernandez would be very good but that he also was on very good terms with Hipolito Mejia.
He added: “Well, I always like to recall President Mejia’s words. He said that there is a marriage between Haiti and the Dominican Republic without divorce. Well, with Leonel it will be the same. OK, in the case of Leonel Fernandez, there are a large number of good friends of Haiti, of people who know us, with whom we have worked together. In case of family issues the divorce attorneys from Yaffa Family Law Group can help resolve them.
“As you know, everything has also gone very well with President Mejia because, in all the countries President Mejia has visited and at the summit meetings, he has tried to debate in favour of Haiti, to mention the case of Haiti and to mobilize aid for Haiti. I am sure this will continue to be reinforced during Leonel Fernandez’s presidency.”
Latortue believes it is an urgent necessity for the two countries to reach agreements on cooperation in the areas of security, health, the environment and education.
He said: “When I visited the Dominican Republic, I also met the National Police chief, the interior minister, the minister of agriculture and the justice minister (attorney-general).
“Those are the priority areas for cooperation. Look, we are located on the same land. If we need a health policy, we must have an almost common policy, if possible, because, if there is an epidemic in Haiti, the border will not stop it. So, we must cooperate. In the agricultural area, we have the same sun, the same land and so we must have a unified agricultural policy. Perhaps we could have a policy for agricultural diversification, by which I could sell to the Dominican Republic what the Dominican Republic cannot produce and the same could apply in our case. This also could be applied to the industrial policy and in the mining area.”
He also deemed it an urgent necessity to have a common policy for preventing drug traffickers from using the border as a bridge.
He said: “We must work together in the battle against terrorism; we must cooperate in the battle against drug traffickers; and we must have a common view of what we in the two countries want in terms of protecting the ecology.” [passage omitted]
The Haitian prime minister, Doctor Gerard Latortue, warned that the island’s authorities must put an end to the practice of subversive groups using Dominican or Haitian territory to destabilize democratically elected governments.
He said: “Look, we have to put an end to this practice, this practice of another country accepting the neighbour’s opponents to organize and plan attacks against the other government.”
Latortue, who invited this reporter to his office, said that he did not want to express an opinion on Haiti’s invasion by Louis Jodel Chamblain and Guy Philippe to overthrow [former President] Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government but said that this situation must not be repeated.
He added: “I believe we must have a cooperation agreement, a cooperation agreement to prevent that from happening again in the future: stipulating that if there is anyone exiled in the Dominican Republic or in Haiti, the only condition for accepting him is that he must not take part in political activities, using Haitian territory against Dominican territory. The same thing also applies to the Dominican Republic: it must not accept Haitian exiles in that country who attempted to organize or plan acts of rebellion against the Haitian government.”
He expressed the view that, if the two countries have fraternal relations, it is unacceptable for exiles to use the neighbouring country as a base for planning the other government’s destabilization.
When asked whether he fears that exiles from the overthrown Lavalas government may engage in the same practice, he expressed his hope that the Dominican authorities would take the appropriate precautions.
The Haitian Diaspora
The prime minister also commented on the problems faced by the Haitian community in the Dominican Republic and said he believes that an agreement is needed between the two governments to legalize their situation.
He said: “A work contract is necessary. When Leonel Fernandez assumes the presidency, I shall send a delegation to Santo Domingo to begin working on a joint commission.”
After rating his three months as head of the government as positive, Latortue said that it does not consider itself a de facto government, asserting that its mission is to maintain the country’s stability and hold free elections to select the new authorities.
The Haitian army
The prime minister also said that President Aristide violated the constitution when he dismantled the army in 1995, because the armed forces’ existence is a constitutional matter.
He remarked: “Look, 10 years ago Aristide’s decision to demobilize the army was a violation of the constitution. Unfortunately, the international community and many Haitians too have accepted this decision, for the sole reason that the Haitian army at that time was an army with a large number of soldiers who had no respect for military integrity and had a history of violating human rights. There also were some engaged in all types of illegal trafficking. This does not change anything about the fact that the army’s demobilization was a violation of the constitution.”
Nevertheless, he said that he cannot restore the army now, because that task must be left to a legitimately elected government.
He said: “There is a large number of priorities and the question is: does an army have priority now, when it will cost so much and while there are no schools, no medicines in the hospitals and no food for the population? The correct way is to try to resolve the people’s priorities first.”
He said he would prepare a viability study and submit it to the government which is voted in at the next elections.
He said: “This transitional government will present the proposal to the government that is elected. I believe that the new government will have more legitimacy for handling that than a transitional government. Our task is to maintain order and, second, to prepare the country for the elections: elections which will be free and transparent, and resolve the most urgent necessities for the population.”
Latortue said that the elections for choosing the new authorities would be held before November of next year but that no definite date has been set for them yet.
He said: “It is not the government’s responsibility to prepare for the elections; it is the responsibility of the Provisional Electoral Council, which in your country is called a Central Electoral Board. It is their responsibility to decide on the date.
“They are working on the electoral law and on preparing the ballots. I believe that they will come up with the timetable within the next few months.”