Originally: CARICOM AND US

Originally appeared in Le Matin.

What is the true status of Haiti-CARICOM relations? A precise answer is difficult. Although during the year there were some pointed political exchanges, in other areas, relations have not deteriorated. Haiti continues to participate in technical discussions, which is all to the good. Nonetheless, some believe that CARICOM is not in any way entitled to interfere in our affairs or to lecture us, still less to view us with disdain. Others consider that its close ties to the deposed president stand in the way of its objectivity and that, in any case, Haiti should not expect too much of the Caribbean.

For my part, I consider that CARICOM should not be given too much credit for wishing to salvage us nor discredited for wishing to subjugate us. The reality is that the English-speaking Caribbean, to which nearly all CARICOM members belong, has had a history quite different from our own. Beyond race, we share a heritage of colonization and slavery. We, however, were colonized by France, they by England. We won our independence by iron, fire, and blood; they through negotiation, through the influence of the decolonization process of the 1960s.

They have preserved their legacy of institutions modeled on those of their mother city: a good judicial system, parliamentary democratic forms, labor unions, political parties, etc. Our efforts to build similar institutions have not yet met with success. When they were but a group of colonies, Haiti was cited as the example not to be followed. When they became independent, the image projected by Haiti held no attraction for them.

Therefore, the CARICOM countries still speak of our forefathers with respect, but they do not put us on the same pedestal. And quite rightly so.

We must, after all, stop burying our heads in the sand. Even that sort of timid pride they displayed in connection with Haiti’s feats two centuries ago has begun to fade. In its place, a subtle competitiveness is emerging, manifesting itself as references to the contributions made by the Caribbean to our struggle for independence through Boukman, the Jamaican, Henri Christophe, the Grenadian, and quite a few other unknown Caribbean citizens.

I suggest that such references be acknowledged while indicating that we have never claimed to cite ourselves as an example to be followed or a model to be imitated.

We first applied for membership in CARICOM in 1975. That application was unsuccessful; however, shortly afterwards, we were granted observer status—which we have never really utilized. After Jean-Claude Duvalier stood down and the life presidency was abolished, the Community began to take a different view of us. It followed the progress of the 1990 elections and, along with the OAS, condemned the 1991 coup d’état. But it did not make too many waves. It confined itself to “political correctness,” supporting measures taken by the international community to restore the constitutional order. During the exile of the Lavalas leader, contacts to obtain membership for Haiti were stepped up. There are, however, indications that the CARICOM leaders did not welcome the Haitian leader’s style or rhetoric. Therefore, the membership of Haiti had nothing to do with the charisma of the Lavalas leader or any breakthrough of Haitian diplomacy. The case had more or less “come to a head” and there was no reason to continue to postpone the political decision to admit our country. That said, tribute must be paid to the professionalism of a small group of Haitian experts from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the DGI, the General Customs Administration, and the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, who led, in extremely difficult circumstances, the technical negotiations, greatly impressing their CARICOM counterparts thereby.

In any event, Haiti’s obtaining membership, while an important step in our relations with the subregion, was only a confirmation of reality: we are in fact part of the Caribbean, as much as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Let us recognize, however, that our joining was not an easy thing for CARICOM, which discussed at length the pros and cons of opening towards the Caribbean as a whole. For that reason, it has not yet accepted the Dominican Republic, and took twenty-five years to accept us, initially provisionally, in 1998, during the presidency of René Préval, then definitively in 2002, during the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The latter did not fail to seek to take personal credit for this—fair enough in politics. But this does not mean that, in accepting Haiti as the fifteenth member of CARICOM, its leaders wished to support the Haitian president’s personal agenda. At the very most, they hoped that, by participating in their private deliberations and studying their institutions, and through close contact with them, the Haitian leader would come to adopt CARICOM’s current practices of governance and public administration. It is for them to assess whether or not this was successful.

It must also be recognized that our contacts and trade with CARICOM were never substantial and the fact of our joining has not changed this. Before our official accession, it took until 1989, with CARIFORUM, for regular contact to be established. In the early 1980s, a small window opened when CARICOM invited Haiti and the Dominican Republic to participate in discussions in order to reach and adopt a common position regarding the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). This was an isolated step, from which Haiti did not benefit—not on account of CARICOM, but rather owing to nuances of U.S. policy.

In fact, in the framework of the CBI discussions, in late 1981, Haitian and CARICOM experts participated in several meetings held in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Jamaica. However, as subsequent CBI negotiations were bilateral, Haiti did not really make good use of the joint document drafted in this connection. At the time, the Jamaican prime minister, Edward Seaga, was considered the Reagan administration’s darling of the Caribbean, and Jamaica received the lion’s share of the nonreimbursable portion of the public development assistance.

While Jamaica was entitled to a grant equivalent to over US$30 million, the United States offered the Republic of Haiti only US$5 million. Yet the amount of assistance requested by Haiti in the joint application submitted by CARICOM and Haiti to the CBI for the 1982–86 period was larger than the budget requested by all CARICOM countries for the same period.

As for the Dominican delegate also participating in the meetings, the day the United States announced an increase in its Dominican sugar quota, he lost all interest in the discussions, considering that his country had gotten what it wanted.

Of course, Haitian authorities did not fail publicly to express their disappointment. To which the United States indirectly gave a short and smooth reply via the head of the U.S. trade delegation during a visit to Haiti: As a rule, he said, one does not criticize a gift. One accepts or rejects it.

As Jean-Paul Sartre put it, simple and too-often-forgotten truths.

It is well to know that when it was established in 1973, in Trinidad, in the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the Caribbean Community was composed of twelve members, divided into two groups: the more developed (Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana) and the less developed (Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent).

The criteria for this categorization involve different factors related to size, per-capita income, population, vulnerability to external shocks, etc. Although after 1973, the situation of many countries changed in terms of, for example, per-capita income, the criteria were not amended and this categorization stood. In 1994, Surinam was admitted to the more-developed group. In 1998, Haiti claimed its less-developed status, among other reasons, in order to benefit from preferential treatment under the Common External Tariff (CET).

The Bahamas, admitted in 1983, enjoys a special status, enabling it to be a member of the Community without participating in the common market. The less-developed/more-developed categorization does not apply in its case. For the record, the Bahamas has a very high per-capita income (US$15,500) and the country imposes no income tax.

Now if we compare Haiti with some members of CARICOM’s “developed” group, in terms of population, surface area, and per capita income, we find that:

Haiti is third in terms of surface area (27,750 km2), first in population (8,200,000 inhabitants), and fifteenth in per-capita income (US$400). Guyana is first in surface area (214,969 km2), fourth in population (848,000), and fourteenth in income (US$700). Surinam is second in terms of surface area (163,265 km2), fifth in population (411,600), and thirteenth in revenue (US$1,450).

When these data are examined, it is evident that Guyana, Suriname, and Haiti could be categorized together. Yet the first two are part of CARICOM’s “developed” group, while Haiti belongs to the “less developed” group.

So here we have the “shy, proud” Haiti, which would like to join CARICOM in the secret hope of dominating it, reduced, owing to its extreme poverty and vulnerability, to making official claim to “inferior” status. It is to be hoped that efforts will be made to improve our supply of exports, as Haiti’s trade with the subregion is at present negligible, representing only 1 percent of Haiti’s total imports and essentially none of its exports.

If CARICOM gives the false impression of wishing to “take us under its wing,” it is simply because we are a “giant with feet of clay” in the subregion. One way to remedy this situation is to create a business climate as attractive to foreign as it is to local investment. In the long term, we may benefit from membership in CARICOM. Moreover, from now on, through its negotiation mechanism, CARICOM affords us an opportunity for better representation in discussions with both the WTO and the FTAA, to mention only two such entities. We have great need for this.

We must, of course, cease to cultivate our paradoxes and contradictions. We must stop squandering the capital of goodwill we enjoy as a nation that pioneered the world’s struggle for emancipation. We must cease to refer to our two hundred years of independence as merely two centuries of waste and dictatorship. All the more so as we do not do this in pursuit of a degree of transparency, but rather to seek to justify the unjustifiable, that is, our inability to get along in order to run our country for the benefit of all Haitians. Furthermore, over these two hundred years, great forums have existed for liberty and democracy, and even major channels for security, from which we have never been able to profit. In terms of public security, this is the worst period we have ever known.

We are the eldest daughter of the Caribbean. If “honor” is mentioned, our retort must be “respect.” And we must not appear in rags as if we sought pity. We must not forget that CARICOM is a forum of admittedly small, but disciplined and organized countries (at least they all make major efforts to be so). Let us not behave within it as though we wished to slip back into anarchy and chaos. Or else it will not take us seriously. No one will take us seriously. And we will not succeed in counteracting the trivialization of our country. Without going into detail, we may note that, in distributing tasks, the United Nations has tended to subcontract some of its activities in Haiti to the OAS, which itself subcontracts others to CARICOM… Hence the growing importance of the subregional organization.

We must also realize that while in the past, at the international level, we were generally viewed as victims of dictatorship, profits and losses of the Cold War, we have begun to be viewed not only as incompetent, but above all as accomplices in our own underdevelopment and poverty.

When will we halt this descent into the netherworld? Our political setbacks with CARICOM are only one episode in the trivialization of our country that we alone have initiated. CARICOM does not wish us ill. It was never married to or “invested” in Aristide. It was frustrated at being pushed aside by the world’s leaders in resolving the Haitian crisis. Admittedly, it erred in casting blame on the transitional government, as it erred in giving the impression of according more importance to Aristide’s fate than to that of the Haitian people.

But it took the case in good faith, at the very invitation of these leaders who wanted to set the Haitian question in its true dimension, which is subregional. It had also hoped to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough. There was none. Now it must turn the page. So must we. Moreover, some of its members have their own domestic problems and are afraid that in confirming the way in which Aristide fell from power, they are creating a precedent that will fuel the arguments of their own extremists. Resolved to build a common external policy, CARICOM in practice takes its decisions unanimously, and therefore accords great importance to a minority dissenting view. Haitian diplomacy must take account of such subtleties and act accordingly.

This diplomacy must also realize that it can no longer continue to invite flirtation from all countries while at the same time conveying the impression of wishing to “climb into bed” only with the United States. We receive promises of assistance from all sides. It is for us to know how to profit from them. Despite evident blunders and misjudgments (which of our partners has not committed any?), our friends in Latin America and CARICOM are making great efforts and huge sacrifices to seek to come to our aid. Let us take care that our attitude towards them is not seen as the famous “compensatory superiority complex” discussed in psychology textbooks. We need not take on that new label.

Ericq Pierre