US bullying Caricom over Haiti?
Two planned meetings in jeopardy if interim regime not recognised
By Rickey Singh Observer Caribbean correspondent
Monday, April 26, 2004
Bridgetown, Barbados - Caribbean Community (Caricom) states are
stiffening their resolve against perceived "bullying tactics" by the
George Bush administration to force the regional grouping to formally
recognise the interim regime in place in Haiti, following the
controversial departure of former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
A trio of Caricom foreign ministers, who spoke to the Observer last
Saturday on condition of anonymity, said representatives of the Bush
Government had "warned against US participation in any meeting with
Caricom, without prior inclusion of the interim regime in Haiti in
the councils of the community".
The stand-off has put in jeopardy two meetings planned between the US
and Caricom - an April 29 meeting of officials set for St Vincent and
the Grenadines, and a high-level meeting on crime and security in the
Bahamas scheduled for May 3. The latter meeting was to include a
senior administration official, the US secretary for Homeland
Security, Tom Ridge.
The foreign ministers and officials of Caricom, meeting last Thursday
and Friday in Barbados as the Council for Foreign and Community
Relations (COFCOR), variously described Washington's activities
as "arrogance" and "bullying tactics".
If the US insisted on its demand for Caricom's "recognition"
or "engagement" with the interim regime in Port-au-Prince, before the
community heads of government are ready to make such a decision, said
one foreign minister, "I can tell you that the meeting with Mr Ridge
will not take place".
The communiqué released yesterday after the meeting made no direct
reference to the US-Caricom conflict over Haiti.
But speaking off the record, the three foreign ministers and various
other officials, told the Observer that the COFCOR discussions had
revealed "a consensus" that Caricom was in no mood to be "dictated"
to on when and why it should allow participation in the councils of
the community by the post-Aristide interim Haitian regime.
First, in relation to the April 29 meeting of officials in Kingstown,
St Vincent, they said Washington had wanted significant changes to
the agenda, such as removal of security and financial issues, then
later raised doubts about the meeting taking place.
Of more significance to the community, said the foreign ministers,
was the signalling by representatives of the Bush administration in
telephone conversations that the scheduled high-level meeting in the
Bahamas on May 3 was dependent on Caricom's official recognition of
the interim Haitian regime.
Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister, Patrick Manning, who has lead
responsibility for security among Caricom leaders, was identified at
last month's Inter-Sessional Meeting in St Kitts to lead the
community's team of national security ministers for the Bahamas talks
The draft agenda prepared for that meeting covered issues of mutual
interest such as security, crime, continued deportation by the US of
criminals, border security, maritime co-operation and justice-related
matters, as well as the global war on terrorism.
In reporting on the foreign ministers' discussions on Haiti, the
communiqué said that they reviewed "issues relating to the
representation of Haiti within the community and how best
representatives of Haiti and the interim administration could re-
establish a dialogue that could lead to a normalisation of
The foreign ministers also said that arrangements were being advanced
for Caricom's participation in a proposed United Nations
Stabilisation Mission, possibly by July this year.
In addition to placing on hold the interim Haitian regime's
participation in the councils of the community, even though the
French-speaking country remains a member state, Caricom has called
for early restoration of constitutional governance in Haiti, based on
free and fair elections.
It also maintains its position for an independent inquiry - possibly
involving the United Nations or the Organisation of American States -
into the circumstances of the dramatic departure from power on
February 29 by President Aristide, in the face of an armed rebellion,
widespread violence and chaos.
Aristide, now in Jamaica after a short stay in the Central African
Republic, claims he was kidnapped by the US.