Letters & Opinion

CARICOM Continuing Haiti Engagement on Transitional Governance

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Never mind deflections of international attention and legal hurdles in Kenya, Caribbean governments continue to engage directly with governing and Civil Society forces in beleaguered Haiti towards possible non-violent settlement of the shared island state’s internal problems.

Thus, while all eyes were on St. Vincent & The Grenadines last week as the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela agreed to the historic Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was again quietly pursuing resolution of another major conflict of regional and global import and interest, in its oldest member-state.

On December 13 – a day before the Argyle Summit – CARICOM’s Eminent Persons Group (EPG), led by former Saint Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony (Coordinator) and including former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding and former Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, concluded a week of intense negotiations with and between Haitian stakeholders on a Draft Framework Agreement (DFA) intended to provide a transitional governance arrangement to take Haiti to and through democratic elections.

The negotiations, attended by representatives of a broad cross-section of political and Civil Society stakeholders, including Prime Minister Ariel Henry, provided what the EPG described in a statement as “an opportunity for narrowing of differences on the details of the transitional governance arrangement.”

It was the EPG’s fourth encounter with the Haitian stakeholders over the past five months, preceding and following the most recent flare-ups in the Caribbean nation under pressure from armed gangs in the face of weak national security units.

Up to September 2023, CARICOM was engaged with Kenya in a United Nations (UN)-backed arrangement involving Kenyan and Caribbean armed and civilian units work together, with US funding, but without UN Peace Keeping Forces (UNPKF) or American soldiers.

Civil Society and other Haitian forces, at home and abroad, strongly opposed the role of ‘The Quartet’ (ambassadors of four Western nations in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince) who seemed to have more control over the Caribbean nation’s present and future than the unelected government led by Prime Minister and Acting President Ariel Henry.

The plan was backed by the UN Security Council and US funding was doubled (from US $100 million to US $200 million), but it ran into legal problems in Kenya that stalled the rapid pace of planned deployment of over 1,000 Kenyan officers to police the Caribbean island, hopefully to be joined by others from CARICOM member-states.

CARICOM is fully committed to playing a leading role alongside Kenya, also to supply armed and civilian units to provide various services the Americans, British, Canadians, French and other western nations with interests in Haiti have, interestingly, opted out of providing.

The UN has had a very bad reputations in Haiti on the basis of earlier experiences involving various types of abuse by its PKFs deployed before and after earlier violent national uprisings, army coups, elections or natural disasters.

In October 2010, ten months after the catastrophic earthquake that killed 200,000 persons and displaced 1 million, a Cholera epidemic caused by UN PKFs resulted in 820,000 cases and approximately 10,000 deaths.

But the UN used its diplomatic immunity to refuse to pay compensation, leading to much of the anger that still resounds around the its related historical role in Haiti.

The world was backing the half-baked UN-CARICOM-Kenya plan all along, despite strong opposition by Haitian entities, but events in Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s disproportionately criminal response of collective punishment of civilians, shifted focus and froze UN and international attention and interest in Haiti.

But while the rest of the world switched deserving attention to the decimation of Gaza and gasped in shock and awe at the killing of over 8,000 Palestinians in less than 100 days, CARICOM’s EPG was quietly and purposefully discussing with stakeholders towards a peaceful transition to new and better governance.

The EPG reported on December 13 that “stakeholders achieved consensus on several aspects of the DFA and have agreed to continue discussions between themselves, in the absence of the EPG, on the key areas of the balance of power and representation within the proposed transitional arrangements.”

The current CARICOM EPG for Haiti is the latest of several such interventions by Caribbean institutions concerned about returning Haiti to a democratic path that’s decided by the people through internationally-observed means of popular consultation.

In the latter decade of the 20th century, the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) had also dispatched an EPG led by Jamaican Catholic Archbishop Sanuel Carter, following the burning of the church led by then Haitian Jesuit priest Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The popular Aristide would remove his cassock and collar and contested and won the December 1990 elections, only to be overthrown in an army coup – and again dethroned a second time, after winning another election following his return from a decade of forced exile in South Africa.

Haiti has been basically left to its own devices and defenses by the rest of the world, but CARICOM has always offered a helping hand to the historic world’s first Black Republic, that defeated the French, freed slaves and became the first freed former slave colony to free slaves, end slavery and declare it illegal.

CARICOM has remained involved with its northern member-state before and since the assassination of Haitian President Jounevel Moise by a foreign-backed mercenary squad on July 7, 2021 and the EPG’s 2023 DFA is a continuation of that process.

According to the EPG’s latest statement, “Members indicated their willingness to return to Haiti once the Stakeholders have made significant progress in their informal discussions and provided a clear indication of their readiness to enter the last phase of negotiations.”

As with the more recent neighborly flare-up between Guyana and Venezuela over Guyana’s Essequibo, CARICOM recognizes that Haiti is a powder-keg awaiting a match, a virtual explosion waiting to happen.

But CARICOM member-states are obviously united in their collective view that Haiti’s neighbors always have a key role to play, through engagement instead of confrontational or externally-imposed means.

The EPG’s fourth meeting in five months have already started showing signs of progress on another front for Caribbean diplomacy in the contemporary world of evolving and continuing climate and political change.

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