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OUR CARIBBEAN: Concerns over Haiti’s hosting of Caricom Summit

OUR CARIBBEAN: Concerns over Haiti’s hosting of Caricom Summit

By Rickey Singh | Fri, November 02, 2012 - 12:00 AM

At the best of times, since the end of the long, dreadful dynastic dictatorship of the Duvaliers, and the rise of a former Catholic priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, as Haiti’s first democratically elected president, experiences in dealing with a government in Port-au-Prince have proven to be quite challenging, if not altogether exasperating, for CARICOM.

And this frustration has now given cause for serious concern – though not officially verbalised – that the Heads Of Government Inter-Sessional Meeting scheduled for Haiti in January 2013 may well have to be shifted to an alternative venue.

Haiti, which accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the estimated 14 million people of the 15-member CARICOM, acquired provisional membership of the Community back in 1997, influenced by the personal involvement of then Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and with then President Rene Preval as the special guest for that event in Kingston.

Haiti’s official membership of CARICOM was established in 2006. It coincided with the inauguration of arrangements for achieving the central objective of a seamless regional economy, via the CSME mechanism, hopefully by 2015. That goal is not now attainable, but this is a matter for another occasion.

Consistent with CARICOM’s culture of  arrangements for the hosting of half-yearly Inter-Sessional Meetings and annual Heads Of Government Conferences, Haiti was first listed to host the 2010 summit, but requested Jamaica to do so when confronted with difficulties.

President Michelle Martelly was an active participant when the decision was taken at last July’s Heads Of Government Conference in St Lucia for Haiti to make good on its obligations to host the coming Inter-Sessional Meeting next January.  But official communication on precise arrangements in place or hurdles to be overcome are said to be still lacking.

Media reports out of Port-au-Prince a week ago included one on President Martelly chairing a planning meeting for the scheduled inter-sessional. For its part, CARICOM is maintaining the pledge – as previously done with other administrations in Port-au-Prince – to make available relevant assistance to the Haitian government while quietly blending optimism for positive responses with rationalizations  of “Haitian sovereignty”.

One sensitive and quite important issue for the scheduled Inter-Sessional Meeting would be Haiti’s repeated request for CARICOM to waive entry visas for its nationals travelling to Community partner states, consistent with its full membership. This is currently being pursued on a phased basis involving government and business people with a view to an expansion of categories.          

A major hurdle to be overcome in deepening the CARICOM-Haiti relationship is the lingering social and cultural prejudices that we of the English-speaking Caribbean have inherited from colonial days about the Haitian people. And such prejudices have little to do with languages.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean ­journalist.

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