(IPS) ST GEORGE'S, Grenada -- In the end they compromised and in the words of Keith Mitchell, of Grenada, the host prime minister and chairman of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, the leaders' decision to "re-engage" Haiti underscores the need to make concessions "for the success of the region as a whole."
Relations with Haiti dominated the four-day annual CARICOM summit that ended July 7, and it took a retreat on Caliviginy Island off Grenada's south coast for the leaders to agree to resume cooperation with the interim administration of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue in Port-au-Prince rather than to formally recognise the U.S.-backed regime.
Leaders of the English-speaking CARICOM have refused to grant Latortue legitimacy since he was installed soon after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flown out of Haiti on a U.S.-chartered jet Feb. 29, and the summit here exposed their public split on the matter.
Jamaica's Prime Minister PJ Patterson told the meeting he was pleased the body had not compromised its fundamental principles in seeking to forge a better relationship with the new government.
"As we seek to chart the way forward, let us not leave behind the fundamental principles, which are our compass. We need to be assured that there will be no sacrifice of the rights of all citizens in this our CARICOM family to exercise their own democratic option, and that their civil rights are duly protected," said Patterson.
"The world is watching, the people of Haiti are waiting on us as we make our decision here," he added, suggesting the time has come to make CARICOM's Charter of Civil Society, which sets out benchmarks for political conduct in the region, a binding document "that is legally enforceable and one which imposes meaningful sanctions for any breach."
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the environment that existed following Aristide's departure had not changed, nor had his views on Haiti's interim government.
"I haven't seen any progress by Latortue's administration. The position of the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, unless I can be convinced otherwise, is that the heads of CARICOM states or group of heads can go and meet Latortue. The heads can go, but they will not be representing me," he told reporters here.
"Latortue was installed by the Americans. You do not have democracy in Haiti today," Gonsalves added.
St Lucian Prime Minister Kenny Anthony described the situation as "contentious," noting the "difficulty is compounded by a number of factors."
"At the same time we recognize as well that we are confirmed democracies -- we clearly outline a path to political power based on the freedom of citizens to elect governments on their own free will; we do not support the imposition of governments," he told IPS.
"We understand there will be constitutional breakdowns from time to time, but that does not mean there should ever be any unlawful usurpation of democracy," he said, adding, "this region has indicated to the rest of the world it is going to follow certain principles to guide its political behavior."
But according to Grenada's leader Mitchell, just as his own island had a brief flirtation with left-wing politics between 1979-83, he believes the time has come to change policies regarding Haiti.
After the coup which brought down Grenada's radical leaders, Mitchell pointed out, Grenada received assistance, sympathetic support and "the patience of many friendly countries and institutions" on its way back to democratic rule.
"We in CARICOM need to offer Haiti a similar package of support. While CARICOM has taken a very principled approach with respect to recent events in Haiti, I believe that the time has come to engage Haiti even more on the way forward for advancing democracy and development for the Haitian people. The Haitian people need their Caribbean brothers and sisters now," he told IPS.
Aristide, a former parish priest, became Haiti's first elected leader in a landslide election victory in 1990. He was ousted in a coup a year later but restored to power backed by U.S. troops in 1994. The populist leader, a champion of the poor, long had a rocky relationship with ultra-conservative forces in Washington, and that influenced the administration of President George W Bush when it took power in 2001.
Initially the Bush administration publicly stood aloof as a crisis engulfed Aristide's government earlier this year. But finally Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted that Aristide should leave office and days later the leader exited in what he insists was a U.S.-French-brokered kidnapping.
Haitian Foreign Minister Yvonne Simeon held informal talks with his CARICOM counterparts here, and prior to his departure told IPS that Port-au-Prince is willing to meet the conditionalities established by the CARICOM leaders.
Those include holding free and fair general elections and curtailing the activities of the armed rebels whose rebellion led to Aristide's ouster and who remain armed and wield considerable power in areas of the countryside.
When the CARICOM leaders emerged from their retreat, Mitchell, who was leading a small band of his peers convinced of the need to re-engage Haiti, told reporters "we have had consensus."
The 'Caliviginy Statement on Haiti' makes it clear that re-engaging Haiti, whose seat at the CARICOM table was declared vacant in March, should not be viewed as an acceptance of the undemocratic change of government in the former French colony.
CARICOM leaders "remained opposed to any interruption of the democratic process, and reiterated that any such development could constitute a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments," it added.
"The removal of democratically elected governments by extra-constitutional means is unacceptable to the membership of the community," the statement said, adding that the reasons that led to CARICOM offering Haiti membership in 1997 remain at least as valid today.
"The paramount concerns then as now, are related to the improvement of the welfare of the people of Haiti and ending the country's historical geo-political isolation in its own region," it added.
The leaders agreed to send a five-member delegation of foreign ministers to Haiti "soon" to "create a channel for engagement with the interim administration."
It will also "discuss recent developments and conditions of participation by the interim administration of Haiti in the councils of the Caribbean Community" and CARICOM's participation in United Nations' efforts, under Security Council Resolution 1542, to strengthen the nation's institutions and to support development of Haitian society.
The delegation is scheduled to report to a "bureau" created by regional leaders, "which will then make its recommendations to heads of government on the way forward," the statement said.
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