Haiti-new doubts, questions.

Planning is going ahead for the proposed special Caricom Summit in Port of Spain that should begin on November 4 with a meeting of the Prime Ministerial Working Group on "new governance" options to enhance regional integration.

But do not be surprised if the three-day meeting of Community Heads of Government fails to take place due to lingering divisions on the basis for "full engagement" with the interim Haitian regime.

Current Caricom chairman Prime Minister Keith Mitchell told me in a brief telephone interview on Monday that so far as he was concerned, "efforts are quietly continuing to get some consensus on a resolution to the problem of full engagement with the interim Haitian administration".

He said he would "remain optimistic, but would not wish to speculate on what may happen should we fail to reach a common understanding ahead of the proposed special summit in Port of Spain".

Secretary General Edwin Carrington, just back at his desk after a brief August vacation, said he also would be surprised if the special summit does not take place.

He is due in Barbados today for a meeting with Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who has lead responsibility for implementation arrangements for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

According to some in a position to know, divisions persist among the Community leaders about any possibility of a resolution of the impasse on Caricom's collective engagement with the interim Haitian regime-as distinct from bilateral relations between member states and the administration in Port-au-Prince.

Further, it is felt that it may be better to avoid a row over Haiti at the special summit during the very week of the presidential election in the USA.

It is known that the US administration of the incumbent George W Bush was actively involved in the installation of the interim regime in Port-au-Prince of which the controversial Gerard Latortue is the Prime Minister.

But those leaders anxious to resolve the impasse on full engagement with the Latortue regime also have serious reservations about "wasting precious time" arguing over Haiti at the special summit which was originally scheduled to focus primarily on CSME-readiness and the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

I have been bluntly told that unless there could be some clear understanding about a common resolve to "move the CSME-readiness process forward" at the coming November meeting, then it would be pointless for the leaders gathering in Port of Spain to "row over the timing and basis for engagement with the Haitian regime".

One Prime Minister of the eastern Caribbean did not conceal his strong disapproval that private communication on the "engagement impasse" over the Latortue regime should have been made public by another Prime Minister.

This was clearly a reference to the communication between Prime Minister Mitchell and the Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

Gonsalves has made it clear that he has no intention of attending any Caricom meeting at which Latortue is an invitee, before there is collective understanding on the basis for "full engagement" in accordance with the spirit and letter of the March communique of Heads of Government, and subsequent related positions.

Also holding a firm line on the conditionalities for "collective" engagement with the Haitian regime is the Prime Minister of St Lucia, Kenny Anthony, who has lead responsibility for Governance and Justice in Caricom.

Prime Minister Arthur of Barbados recently went public with his declaration that his government reserved the right to engage fully with the Haitian regime, and, by implication, that it was not necessarily waiting for a collective approach by the Community.

But Gonsalves, as well as Anthony, are on record as having earlier separately stated that it has always been the understanding that any member state of Caricom was free to engage in bilateral relations with the Haitian regime, and even establish diplomatic relations, as already exist between Haiti and The Bahamas and Jamaica.

Amid the prevailing uncertainty about the special summit in Port of Spain, there is also concern over what ever happened to Caricom's original call, back in March at the emergency summit hosted by Prime Minister PJ Patterson in Kingston, for an independent international probe into the circumstances surrounding the sudden departure from office on February by the elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Six months later, it is time for an official explanation, especially since there is good reason to say that no official request was ever made to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, for such an international investigation.

Nor was any official effort made to get a meeting of the UN General Assembly to at least discuss the circumstances of Aristide's fall from power.

Further, it is now also known that when Caricom eventually moved to involve the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in undertaking such an investigation within the context of the Inter-American Democratic Charter with particular reference to Article 20, Barbados, surprisingly, was not among the co-sponsors of the resolution.

In the end, the initiative was frustrated and it was not until the OAS General Assembly meeting in Quito that a rather truncated resolution was approved to mandate the Permanent Council to assess the governance problem in post-Aristide Haiti and to produce a report.

Question: What exactly has been done, if anything, by the OAS Permanent Council since the meeting of the General Assembly?

Further, is it true that the mood at a recent meeting of Caricom ambassadors to the OAS was so tense that it may well have signalled more negative vibes for a possible positive outcome soon among the Community's Heads of Government on engagement with the Haitian regime?

[Source: By Rickey Singh, Trinidad & Tobago Express, 08sep04]

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