Originally: Explosive rift over Haiti

Jamaica was working feverishly to get consensus as serious cracks appeared last night in Caribbean Community (Caricom) unity over claims there was an undue haste to re-integrate the interim regime in Haiti in the regional grouping, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Keith Knight confirmed.

Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo, St Lucian prime minister Kenneth Anthony, and St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Ralph Gonsalves, in strong language yesterday charged that there were moves to abandon the principled stand taken by Caricom following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February this year.

The development followed a recommendation from the July 28 Caricom Bureau meeting in Grenada for “full engagement” with Haiti, but the three leaders insisted that this should not take place before a scheduled special summit of the Community leaders in Trinidad and Tobago in November.

Gonsalves, the most strident of the three heads of government, vowed to boycott any Caricom meeting at which interim Haitian prime minister Gerard Latortue was present, before “we can arrive at a final resolution, based on our earlier principled stand” which followed Aristide’s removal from office.

Aristide said he was kidnapped by the United States with French support and flown out of his country, as armed rebels advanced on the capital, Port-au-Prince. The Americans have denied the claim.

Caricom condemned the developments and called for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances leading to the former Haitian leader’s removal.

In the face of the strong disagreement among the Caricom heads, hopes for Haiti’s early return to active participation in the Community dimmed rapidly yesterday, and consensus on the call for “full engagement” seemed in jeopardy.

Jagdeo said he was “quite amazed” with the speed at which moves had been made since their conference in Grenada last month, to push the controversial Haiti issue for a final resolution. “In some ways, the rush is quite unprecedented,” he declared.

For his part, Anthony said the Haiti issue “remains exceedingly troubling, and as a Community we have an obligation to avoid endangering our unity and commitment by any hasty decision that could compromise the very integrity of a movement we have worked so hard to build”.

But last night, Knight said Jamaica was working hard to get consensus among the Caricom states, on how the region should treat with the Haitian people, even as the three Caricom heads distanced themselves from the recommendation of the bureau.

“We are very committed to helping the Haitian people in their institutional and capacity-building, working with the United Nations mission in areas such as the Haitian police, the electoral system and the administration of the country, to improve the life of the people there,” said Knight.

Knight said it was very important to ensure that mechanisms put in place by Caricom to facilitate its involvement in the rebuilding of Haiti be allowed to work.

The “full engagement” proposal was based on a report to the bureau from the delegation of community foreign ministers that went to Haiti last month, following the 25th Caricom Summit, to assess the political situation and hold talks with Latortue.

With the threat of a likely majority decision being implemented, in accordance with Article 28 of the revised Caricom Treaty, the Sunday Observer was reliably informed yesterday that the three heads of government had been quietly communicating with each other on the implications of such a development since the norm had been to avoid “divisions on contentious issues”.

Jagdeo said he would reserve further public comment until after he had responded to a Caricom Bureau proposal on the Haitian problem by August 16.

But he stressed that his Community partners would be aware that “the issue of ensuring that constitutional governance is not disrupted by coups or political violence remains of deep concern to Guyana”.

Prime Minister Anthony, who has lead responsibility for Governance and Justice among Caricom leaders, told the Sunday Observer that he was currently in the process of responding to a communication from the Community Secretariat, having earlier sent a letter to the current Caricom chairman, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, “and therefore wish to say very little now as I observe the puzzling haste, quite unprecedented really, by which developments have taken place within the past few weeks to get Haiti on board…”

He shared, he said, much of the sentiments expressed in a letter by Prime Minister Gonsalves sent on August 5 to Mitchell, but was not “disposed to say anything further at this stage”.

In his letter to Mitchell, Gonsalves, who, along with Anthony and, to a lesser extent, the president of Guyana, had adopted a tough stance at last month’s Caricom Summit on the terms of the interim Haitian regime’s participation in the regional grouping, said :

“President Jagdeo of Guyana knows that I went along at the Heads Meeting in Grenada with the idea of sending Caricom foreign ministers to Haiti ONLY (his emphasis) to preserve Caricom’s unity. I will, however, not be a part of a false unity which is based on an abandonment of fundamental principles…”

The foreign ministers delegation was led by Barbados’ foreign minister Dame Billie Miller, current chair of the Caricom’s Council for Foreign and Community Affairs (COFCOR).

Added Gonsalves : “I reject the undue haste by Caricom on this issue of Haiti. Never in the history of Caricom has it moved with such expedition on an issue. Why ?”

Gonsalves further expressed “shock” at the extent to which, he said, “some in Caricom are going so as to prepare the ground to capitulate on our earlier principled stand on Haiti. I know that the people of the region will never forgive those who so capitulate…”

Prime Minister Mitchell, asked for his comment on Gonsalves’ position, in his capacity as Caricom chairman, said yesterday that having presided over the Caricom Bureau meeting at which the recommendation for full engagement was made, he was not prepared to make any statement “before I have the opportunity to hear from all the Heads of Government… I am, however, anxious that we preserve our unity in seeking to do what’s best for Haiti and our Community”.

  Rickey Singh