(IPS) PORT OF SPAIN -- Its seat was left empty for a two-day summit that ended Friday, but Haiti remained the main point of discussion by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, who insist there can be no lasting solution to the political crisis in the former French colony without their input.
Late Friday, the leaders decided at their inter-sessional summit in St Kitts to not formally recognize the interim government in Haiti. Their unease over the Feb. 29 departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was behind the unanimous decision, various media reported.
Earlier, outgoing CARICOM chairman and Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson told his colleagues that any attempt to rebuild democracy in the troubled CARICOM member state might be fruitless unless the regional grouping is involved.
"We may be small in size, we certainly proclaim no military power, but our influence in the hemisphere cannot be underestimated and I do not believe there will be a lasting and permanent solution to the problems in Haiti unless CARICOM is involved and allowed to make a meaningful contribution," Patterson said in a statement.
The position found favor with Vaughan Lewis, a professor in international relations at the University of the West Indies (UWI), who believes CARICOM needs also to engage the United States more and push for greater international involvement in Haiti.
"The fact of the matter is we have to engage the U.S. but we have to do that by trying through our diplomacy to ensure that the issue of Haiti becomes rapidly internationalized, multi-lateralised, and that the UN be given a degree of authority to deal with that situation over the long-term," he told IPS.
"The Caribbean countries have to recognize that they do not have an autonomous role to play in this situation because we do not have the capabilities to reach a resolution of certain aspects that the Haitian situation requires. We therefore have to engage -- even when we are not feeling nice to certain countries or people -- we have to engage with them in serious diplomacy," Lewis added.
Political observers say Washington has been pressuring the Caribbean countries to recognize the new, interim Haitian government, while Jamaica's Foreign Minister KD Knight has dismissed suggestions the United States planned to target Jamaica if it did not expel Aristide from Kingston immediately.
Knight, who was in St. Kitts as part of the Jamaican delegation, told Jamaican media Friday that he talked recently with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the matter did not come up.
In recent months, CARICOM-U.S. relations have been stretched, with the Caribbean leaders opposing the Washington-led war in Iraq and calling for an independent probe into the circumstances that led to Aristide, the nation's first democratically elected leader, being forced from office.
The former priest turned president accused Washington of orchestrating his removal and forcing him into exile, a claim denied by the Bush administration, but Caribbean leaders have remained unconvinced of the denial, given that the United States and other members of the UN Security Council refused to answer Aristide's call for a multinational force to restore order in the country just days before his departure.
Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue was not invited to the St Kitts summit after he refused to repudiate scathing remarks he made earlier about CARICOM and Jamaica, which is providing temporary asylum to Aristide.
In a statement, host country St Kitts said Caribbean leaders did not extend the invitation to Latortue, who had signalled his intention to attend the summit, "after he failed to issue an acceptable statement clarifying his remarks on the 'freezing of diplomatic relations with Jamaica and possibly CARICOM.'"
The leaders, who stressed their adherence to democratic principles concerning Haiti as a political stalemate was joined by a rebel uprising that swept across the country in February, hardened their position on Latortue after he shared a platform with rebel leaders -- some of whom are convicted death squad leaders and coup plotters -- in the Haitian town of Gonaives last weekend.
Caribbean political observers believe that Haiti's seat in the 15-member CARICOM will remain vacant until free and fair elections are held in the nation of eight million people. Latortue has suggested polls will be held within two years.
The region's final position on Haiti might be influenced also by the briefing given by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy on Haiti, Reginald Dumas, who recently completed a 10-day fact-finding mission to the country, which is now home to a multinational force led by U.S. Marines.
The former Trinidad diplomat, who met Caribbean leaders Thursday, is due to present a report to Annan on Tuesday before travelling to Washington to brief the Organization of American States (OAS).
Lewis believes the issue of recognizing Haiti's interim administration is not as important as is being suggested, noting that CARICOM could use the Cotonou convention, the trade and aid pact that links African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Union (EU), to find a solution.
"Prime Minister Latortue is somebody who has been seriously engaged in Caribbean interaction before. He knows that Haiti has to function within that sphere, said Lewis, adding, "CARICOM must ensure that the position with regard to the evolution of the Haitian situation is properly dealt with within the framework of ACP-EU relations."
Earlier this week, 30 non-government organizations (NGOs) said the region must provide Haiti with the financial and technical resources to: improve its physical infrastructure, including roads, utilities, schools and hospitals; provide food security, and furnish capital for economic development in agriculture, manufacturing and other industries and services.
"The governments and people of the region must assist Haiti to get money which is rightfully due to the country and special funds to deal with the humanitarian crisis," the Caribbean NGOs said in a statement.
"CARICOM should take the lead in a major international thrust for donor funds to help the recovery of a country devastated by consecutive dictatorships, undue external interference, the blockage of critical funds and the destruction caused by the brutal invasion of thugs," the group added.
After Senate elections in 2000 that some international bodies labelled "flawed," donors and global financial institutions froze $500 million earmarked for development in Haiti.
The Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) a Pan Caribbean ecumenical organization that includes churches in Haiti, said the "unwillingness of the international community to make available to Haiti over the past two years approved international aid" contributed to the lack of democracy in the country.
"As a Caribbean organization, the CCC is well aware that Caribbean countries, for the most part, pride themselves on a democratic tradition reflective of the strong desire of the peoples of the region for ever deeper expressions of self-determination," it added.
March 30, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.