WHAT'S GOING ON IN HAITI?
(Jamaica Observer) - By Winsome Trudy
Major happenings on the international scene in recent weeks have displaced Haiti from the headlines. But there are some interesting developments, some with far-reaching implications for the Caribbean Community (Caricom). This may change after Saturday, May 14, when Michel Martelly will be inaugurated as president. Hopefully, some of this may be in favour Caricom.
By the time this column appears there will undoubtedly be more news, but so far I have not heard of one Caricom leader, besides the president of Suriname, who has been officially invited to the inauguration. While it is entirely possible that the current Caricom chairman will be eventually invited, the delay suggests that the mindset of Martelly and/or his 'kitchen-cabinet' is arguably not quite in Caricom's favour.
There is an emerging suspicion that Martelly holds no real interest in forging links with the community. While it is still early days, the silence is deafening. Further, there are reports out of Suriname that he is to make an early visit to that country, accompanied by American-Haitian hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean.
That announcement further stated that the president of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, is to lead his country's delegation to the inauguration. Assuming this report to be true, it certainly leads one to question Martelly's motives, especially if no other invitation to Caricom leaders is forthcoming.
Bouterse was elected as president of Suriname on July 19, 2010 and installed on August 12, 2010. A convicted drug trafficker, he is currently facing trial for his alleged role in executing 15 political opponents in 1982 when he previously ruled the country. Although he was convicted in The Netherlands, he remains free in Suriname. If Martelly's earliest regional initiatives involve flirtations with Bouterse, then this could complicate his relations at home and abroad.
Given Suriname's reputed military preoccupations, the new Haitian leader could be seeking support from that corner of the region in re-establishing Haiti's army. After all, he did indicate that to be among his aims, while on the campaign trail.
Martelly did make an early start by visiting the US, considered to be Haiti's bastion of support. We have yet to see how he will continue warm relations with other countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba, all of which have offered significant assistance since and before the earthquake.
Call it naivety on my part, but I expected that Caricom, if not openly courted like other more resource-rich countries and/or regions, would have been among the first invitees to his inauguration at least, given our linkages in the recent past. That being said, it is well known that his views of Caricom may be coloured by a misguided perception of a connection to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
As is also well known, Mr Martelly is no fan of Aristide, and given that perception, may feel that Caricom is not a friend to be courted. That would be a mistake. It would be political naivety to view Caricom's intervention in the impasse involving the ouster of Aristide from leadership by US forces as the regional community 'watching the back' of a friend.
Any unbiased observer would have seen that for these feisty independent countries, it was a matter of respect for the sovereignty of a member of its own community with which it has formidable historic links. Hence any such unprovoked interference would, and could not have been condoned.
Radio Métropole made the other important disclosure that Martelly proposes to nominate Daniel Rouzier as prime minister. Clearly this would leave Jean Max Bellerive out in the cold. There were earlier indications that Bellerive, said to be a cousin of the president-elect, was Martelly's initial choice, given the outgoing prime minister's vast experience and familiarity with state affairs. But Martelly's supporters are much less tolerant, especially given the present climate of change.
This most likely means that Rouzier will replace Bellerive as co-chair (with Bill Clinton) of Haiti's Interim Recovery Commission. Such a decision must however be endorsed by Parliament where the Inite party (led by outgoing President Preval) has majority representation and where Martelly (who was not fielded by a political party) is not represented. But the new Parliament may cut him some slack if there is to be any progress for the country. Indeed, the appointment of Rouzier may be a masterstroke in more ways than one.
Said to be an economist, Rouzier is also a successful businessman, philanthropist and devout Christian. He should be favoured by the Americans; he heads the Haitian branch of Food For the Poor, a US-based charity that describes itself as Christian. More significantly from a Caricom perspective, he is Jamaica's honorary counsel general, having been thus appointed since June 2010.
Despite all sounds of support elsewhere on the global circuit, it is very unlikely that at this stage of its development, especially given its strong commitment to national sovereignty, that Haiti can make significant headway without Caricom's assistance. In fact, it is important to both sides that relations remain cordial, if not good. As the most populated country in Caricom, Haiti's market holds strong potential for the region and is presently being actively courted by private sector interests throughout the community.
Caricom, on the other hand, in addition to its offer of technical support, is committed to championing Haiti's campaign for sovereignty on the world stage. There is enough historical evidence of developing countries like Haiti being enticed to become a mere appendage of powerbrokers, donor countries and grant providers in the global community that hold out promises of assistance, that sometimes prove to be deceptive.
All things considered, we hope that Haiti's relations with Caricom will improve and move beyond good to excellent. But right now the ball is predominantly in Martelly's court. Caricom leaders have already given strong indications that they are prepared to dance. But obviously, while they can lead Haiti to the water, they certainly cannot force them to drink.
Hopefully, too, at the end of the day, whatever decision the new president makes will show that he is a worthy descendant of Toussaint-Louverture, exhibiting the makings of a true leader capable of sound choices in the interest of Haiti, including decisions that bring the country more fully in line with its Caricom family.