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17304: BEnodin: CARICOM needs to state position on Haiti (fwd)

From: Robert Benodin <r.benodin@worldnet.att.net>

CARICOM needs to state position on Haiti
November 16, 2003

The Jamaica Observer--

WHAT new position Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
leaders may have to offer on their known concerns about electoral democracy
and human rights in Haiti, should have been indicated in the communiqué
scheduled to have been released Friday evening after their two-day special
summit in Castries, St Lucia.
The official invitation from President Jean Bertrand Aristide for
governments, organisations and institutions of CARICOM to participate in
Haiti’s Bicentennial Independence Anniversary in January 2004, was an agenda
item for the Castries Summit.
A positive response in terms of CARICOM’s participation was always expected.
The crucial question for CARICOM relates to the Aristide Government’s
continuing failure to deliver on its pledge of bipartisan co-operation to
ensure functioning mechanisms to guarantee the conduct of free and fair
With increasing attention being paid to better governance within CARICOM,
there is a more critical scrutiny of the community’s efforts to help resolve
the political conflicts between the Aristide Administration and the
representative Opposition parties and organisations on the arrangements for
new elections.
In that oldest of independent nations in the Western Hemisphere, and the
newest and most populous and poverty-stricken member state of CARICOM, has
now emerged a serious indictment of President Aristide’s rule by a group of
outstanding Haitians.
The indictment is outlined in a three-page Declaration of Principle on the
Bicentennial of Haiti’s Independence, currently being circulated with the
signatures of some 57 Haitian artists, intellectuals, human rights
advocates, writers and educators.
They make damning charges of the abuse of power by the Aristide presidency
in Port-au-Prince. President Aristide was absent for the Castries Summit.
That was not a surprise.
Aristide is now being openly reviled for "dictatorial rule" and a lifestyle
that mocks the chronic poverty of Haitians, scores of whom continue to risk
their lives and die at sea in their frantic efforts to escape the miseries
in their homeland...
As a Caribbean state for which CARICOM has been consistent in appealing for
the release of frozen international aid, while actively collaborating with
the Organisation of American States for a resolution to the political
impasse over the conduct of new elections, Haiti’s problems remain very much
on the agenda of the community.
At the CARICOM Summit in Montego Bay last July, President Aristide was
enthusiastically inviting all and sundry -- politicians, technocrats, media
and cultural people -- to be guests of Haiti for its historic 200th freedom
However, by the time his fellow community leaders were ready to officially
declare, in the conference communiqué, their own "sense of disappointment
that undertakings made by the government had not been fully complied with",
the Haitian president was smugly winging his way back home.
A small group of Haitian intellectuals and human rights advocates had
originally expressed their concerns, four years ago, to then President Rene
Preval, once a close ally of Aristide, when they warned of Haiti’s "drift
into lawlessness" -- away from the "ideals of pluralism and democracy".
Today, as problems deteriorate under the Aristide presidency, a much wider
group of Haitian intellectuals, writers, artists, educators and human rights
activists have articulated those concerns in the Declaration of Principle.
The Declaration is being circulated nationally, regionally and
internationally, including within Caricom, the Organisation of American
States, European Union and the United Nations.
It highlights the ugly features of a regime that has strayed from the
earlier promises of a president once committed to human rights, justice and
freedom and a better life for the Haitian people.
According to the signatories, Aristide now heads "a blatantly despotic and
totalitarian regime" that official rhetoric in Port-au-Prince can no longer
effectively conceal amid the arrangements for the country’s 200th
independence anniversary next year.
It is a regime, claimed the signatories, whose policies and actions
"actively negate the principles and values that were the very foundations of
the Haitian Revolution".
They further contend that Haitians are today "profoundly disturbed" by the
way in which Aristide’s government is orienting the "official celebration"
of the bicentennial anniversary into a "propaganda campaign to legitimise
its usurpation of power..."
The declaration is quite contemptuous of the Aristide Administration’s
strategy to obtain "reparations and restitution for slavery" and related
treatment from the former colonial power, France, following Haiti’s
successful revolution -- the first Black revolution in history.
The group of signatories thinks that the reparations and restitution efforts
"are nothing more than a desperate gambit on the part of those in power to
divert attention from their own responsibilities, and to find a scapegoat to
obfuscate their own failure..."
"The intolerable living conditions of eight million Haitians are only
getting worse and worse," claimed the signatories, "as a result of the
ineptitude and paralysis of a government that plunders and wastes public
funds, and has destroyed public administration itself..."
In focusing attention on instigated violence against political opponents and
the media, the signatories to the declaration noted:
"While 20 or so journalists have been forced into exile, the assassinations
of two of them remain unpunished, notwithstanding the fact that in one of
these cases, the murderers -- government partisans -- have publicly avowed
their culpability, yet continue to circulate freely...."
They concluded by signalling their "refusal to associate with the official
celebrations of our bicentennial through which the Government is futilely
seeking nothing more than its own legitimisation".
Between the Preval and Aristide presidencies, they declared, "the increasing
intensity of violence, of human rights violations in Haiti have made it
difficult to celebrate, all together, the 200th anniversary of our
Independence -- the anniversary of the emergence of the first nation of free
men in the modern world".
They are, therefore, urging a boycott of the bicentennial independence
celebrations, with the hope that their plea could somehow influence not only
representative Haitian institutions, organisations and groups at home, but
also regional and international bodies.
That may be expecting a little too much, in terms of official representation
Nevertheless, we await the latest message from CARICOM on its "democracy
watch" on Haiti. And, indeed, what comfort it has to offer those Haitians
who have courageously identified themselves with the Declaration of
Rickey Singh