Haiti’s progress and Caricom

In the face of post-earthquake distortions of the Haitian society and economy, it would hardly have been expected that elections for the presidency would have gone particularly smoothly. And it would hardly have been expected either, that given the number of persons putting themselves up for the post, that the choice of a winner would be resolved in one election. So if we wish at this time to err on the side of optimism, it could be said that all things considered, the process has gone on in a reasonably predictable and not unexpected manner, in spite of the hulaballoo about the result.

It would seem that the early post-election statement made by the OAS-Caricom Electoral Observer Mission, indicating that it did not accept that “irregularities, serious as they were, necessarily invalidated the process,” has been accepted as largely valid.  And it seems also to have had the effect, in spite of subsequent street protests, of calming wider public sentiment, of influencing international opinion in the direction of agreeing that the electoral process could continue, and calming sentiment among the leading candidates themselves against excessive support for any continuous civil disturbance. In that context too, it would appear that the decision to work with the OAS as a joint team, has given Caricom itself the possibility of obtaining a wider international focus on the region’s views, and indeed, providing additional legitimacy in international circles for them.

Although Haiti is a member of the Caribbean Community, committed to the implementation of the Single Market and Economy, it is obvious that the regional integration movement does not have the kind of resources that would give its policies and work on the post-earthquake Haitian reconstruction the necessary force and legitimacy for ensuring that the region and Haiti’s objectives in that regard are achieved. The earthquake has, in fact, exposed the extreme weakness not simply of the Haitian economic system, but, more importantly, of its institutional system. And that in turn, has demonstrated the extent to which only the sustained commitment of the international community can begin to make a dent in the process of ensuring a sufficient institutional stability to permit appropriate decision-making domestically, and in relation to the integration movement.

In that context the formula of an Interim Haitian Reconstruction Committee, chaired by President Preval, and including former President Clinton and former Jamaica Prime Minister Percival Patterson, has enhanced the possibilities for sustained international commitment, while simultaneously giving recognition to Caricom’s entitlement to a position that allows the region to ensure a longer-term complementarity between Haiti’s reconstruction and its participation in the regional integration movement.

It would, of course, have been anticipated that Caricom itself has few levers to encourage movement of the reconstruction process at a pace that it would wish. A statement made by Mr Patterson in June of this year suggests the frustrations implicit in this, the former Prime Minister arguing then that, “Unless there is decisive action and evident momentum, we face the threat of a pervasive and paralyzing crisis which would imperil the social, economic and institutional recovery of Haiti, thereby also preventing a smooth democratic transition.”  Patterson was well aware of concern that international financial contributions to the reconstruction process are not being made at the anticipated pace, causing delay in the implementation of the agreed action plan. In that context he has noted that “the implicit [political] truce that followed the catastrophe has dissipated.”

This statement, made before the outbreak of the cholera epidemic, has obviously gained added legitimacy.

The necessary limitations on Caricom’s influence in the recovery process indicate, however, the necessity to treat the issue as one suggesting the need for a Caricom diplomacy that would enhance its position by finding meaningful alliances or accommodations with other, more significant states committed to the reconstruction process. We must too, recognize nearer home, the significance of the interest of the Dominican Republic in the evolution of Haiti, complicated as that relationship has historically been. President Fernandez of the DR has been particularly active in ensuring that his country has a certain visibility among the more major powers involved in the stabilization and reconstruction process. He continually intervened with countries like the United States and Brazil and Argentina (members of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, (MINUSTAH), taking advantage in the case of those states of his country’s position in the constellation of Latin American states. He has fairly clearly asserted his objective of using the crisis to rationalize border relations between the DR and Haiti, from the perspectives of both rationalizing the movement of people and goods and, more importantly, in the longer term of creating a viable cross-border economic development arrangement.

The Dominican Republic’s diplomacy has been autonomous, in the sense of being conducted separate from Caricom’s initiatives. And the holding of a meeting, in the DR earlier this month of the Interim Commission, followed by a proposed meeting (subsequently postponed) between the Haitian and DR Presidents, was no doubt intended to emphasise the specificity of the DR’s interest and concern in the evolution of events in Haiti, an objective which the outbreak of the cholera epidemic has emphasized. Further, from a longer term point of view, the DR’s activism in this regard, when taken in conjunction with its insistence that the functioning of Cariforum in relation to the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union should take more seriously into consideration the DR’s objectives and views about future regional integration, suggests the use of the reconstruction issue to further that end. And this implies, in turn, an extended Caricom concern with the EU’s perspectives on the future evolution of Haiti.

Finally as we have indicated, there is the sphere of interest of the Latin American states, in particular Brazil, and the interest which Cuba has had in the evolution of the Haitian socio-economic system over the years. It is obvious that the leadership role being played by Brazil in the MINUSTAH process emphasizes that country’s interest in the evolution of the wider Caribbean. And President Castro’s recent statements emphasizing the role played since 1999 by his country over the years in sustaining the Haitian health system, and Cuba’s more extended intervention in that sector in the post-earthquake and post-cholera situations, suggest that there is some virtue in Caricom closely cooperating to understand the wider and longer term implications of Cuba’s participation as a part of the wider Caribbean, including in our recently evolving regional public health initiative, CARPHA.

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