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British and Irish NGOs call on CARICOM to help Haiti

By Haiti Support Group

Submitted to AlterPresse on June 16, 2006

A grouping of British and Irish development non-governmental organizations working in Haiti and in solidarity with the Haitian
people has issued a call to CARICOM, regional heads of states, and Caribbean civil society to support progressive and constructive change in Haiti.

The Haiti Advocacy Platform Ireland/UK (HAPI-UK) welcomes the fact that the election of a President and Parliament opens the way for Haiti’s re-engagement with other Caribbean states, and suggests that the CARICOM Secretariat and CARICOM member states should to commit to a specific package of support for the country.

The HAPI-UK statement notes that the new Haitian government and the UN stabilization mission, the MINUSTAH, "need every possible assistance in their efforts to combine reduced gang violence with the rapid implementation of high-profile interventions to benefit the inhabitants of the capital’s worst urban districts".

It also states that, at the same time, "action is needed to disarm and dismantle urban and rural armed gangs through a re-focused Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program, and to make more rapid progress with the professionalisation and strengthening of the Haitian National Police (HNP)". In this context, the Platform calls on CARICOM member states to contribute police officers to the MINUSTAH contingent, adding that French and/or Creole-speaking police officers would be particularly useful.

With regard to strengthening democracy and institution-building, the HAPI-UK calls on CARCIOM to increase their participation in monitoring forthcoming local government elections, and explore ways to support the new Haitian parliament, including arranging bilateral exchange visits by parliamentarians.

As CARICOM is an entity with an economic focus, the statement makes a number of recommendations on ways that Haiti could economically benefit from its membership of CARICOM. These include the offer of duty and quota-free access for key Haitian goods which have significant potential to reduce poverty in Haiti, ensuring that flexibility on tariffs is maintained for Haiti within CARICOM, and the development of a Caribbean-wide investment framework, with the inclusion of Haiti, to ensure that the benefits of foreign investment in the region are harnessed for development purposes.

The statement concludes with calls for CARICOM and members states to provide assistance to initiatives to halt deforestation, to support Haiti in developing alternative energy sources and include Haiti in the work by the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Program, and to consider the development of linkages between the University of the West Indies and the State University of Haiti.

The HAPI-UK members signing the statement are Cafod, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, the Haiti Support Group, Oxfam GB, SCIAF, Tearfund, and Trocaire.

The Haiti Support Group’s Charles Arthur said that the idea for the recommendations to CARICOM was first mooted during a meeting in London with Reginald Dumas, the Trinidadian diplomat who was UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti between February - August 2004.

Arthur said that the recommendations to CARICOM must be seen in the context of President Préval’s remarks during his visit to Cuba in April this year when he called for regional integration. Préval stated, "If we do not integrate ourselves within the region we will have major problems with developing...So we will do all we can...politically, economically and culturally."

Following the collapse of the Lavalas Family government and the installation of the interim government headed by Gérard Latortue in March 2004, Haiti has not been invited to participate in CARICOM meetings. However CARICOM foreign ministers, meeting in Grenada in late April 2006, agreed that the successful conclusion of presidential and legislative elections deemed to be free, fair and credible would lead to a return to constitutional rule and would enable Haiti to be fully reintegrated into the activities of CARICOM. The final reintegration will now take place at the CARICOM heads of state meeting in St Kitts and Nevis in early July.

In late May, Reginald Dumas criticized what he saw as CARCIOM’s failure to meet and talk with new president René Préval since his election in February. In an interview with BBC Caribbean, Dumas said, "This is amazing. They should have re-engaged already. The longer they wait, the more marginalized they become. I’ve been disappointed, frankly".

Dumas said the regional body should have re-engaged with Haiti before René Préval’s inauguration as President in mid-May. He said, "What’s important in Haiti above all is the welfare of the Haitian people. CARICOM spent too much time talking about the need for free and fair elections and how Aristide left, and not enough time talking about what they could do to assist the people".

The Haiti Support Group’s Arthur said he shared Dumas’ frustration. "If CARICOM really wants to help Haiti, it needs to act quicker. Haiti is enjoying a rare period of relative stability and everyone needs to take advantage of this and the generalized sense of optimism."

He added, "We must be aware that the new government in Haiti is enjoying a honeymoon period that will inevitably come to an end soon. If big changes don’t take place rapidily, Haiti runs the risk of falling back into hopelessness and despair."

Source: Haiti Support Group