Will Haiti host Caricom summit?
EVEN prior to Haiti falling victim to the latest natural disaster with deaths and destruction from Hurricane Sandy there were concerns within Caricom that its most populous and poorest member state may once again ask to be excused as host for a community summit. This time, for the Heads of Government Inter-Sessional Meeting scheduled for January next year.
Now, with more than an estimated 100 dead and missing and a least 18,000 families left homeless as Haiti's Civil Protection Agency continues to assess the extent of dislocations and devastation, the possibility of such a recurrence is not being ruled out by those in officialdom who regularly monitor Haitian developments.
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 for the 15-member Caricom.
This frustration has now given cause for serious concern — though not officially verbalised — that the January Heads of Government Inter-Sessional Meeting will have to be shifted to an alternative venue.
Haiti, which accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the estimated 14-million people of Caricom, acquired provisional membership of the community back in 1997. It was influenced by the personal involvement of then Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson and with then Haitian President René Préval as special guest for that event in Kingston.
Haiti's official membership of Caricom was established in 2006, coinciding 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 now unattainable, but this is an issue 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 do so when confronted with difficulties.
However, President Michel 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. Official communication on precise arrangements in place, or hurdles yet to be overcome, were still lacking — long before the destructive visitation of Hurricane Sandy.
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 rationalisations about the norms 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 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.
But the coming Inter-Sessional Meeting provides a very good opportunity for serious dialogue on future Caricom-Haiti relations, considering that the community has played a key role in helping to mobilise international support in the restoration of parliamentary democracy in that partner state, and more recently continues to maintain active interest in monitoring pledged donor assistance for recovery from the massive earthquake devastation of January 2010.
It is of interest to note that two Caribbean nations — Cuba and Jamaica — were also victims of the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, and both remain quite helpful in championing the sovereignty of Haiti and its social and economic development.
Perhaps we may have some positive news this week on Haiti's commitment to host the coming Caricom Summit in January.