Haitian crisis shakes up Patterson
Retired Jamaica PM sees delicate road ahead for Caribbean nationSunday, July 11, 2021
BY HG HELPS
WHILE outrightly condemning the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, retired Jamaica prime minister and Caribbean region elder statesman, P J Patterson, has expressed concern about how the French-speaking country will proceed henceforth.
Patterson, Jamaica's prime minister from 1992 to 2006, who represented the people of Westmoreland Eastern before and during that period, blasted the hit on the holder of Haiti's highest political office, and expressed the hope that the mastermind behind the operation will be caught.
He said though, that some of the complexities that govern the embattled country, which shares Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, needs to be addressed with care.
“First of all, we have to accept that assassination for those who hold or seek political office cannot be condoned,” Patterson said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday before following up with a media statement later in the day.
“Secondly”, Patterson went on, “we express sympathy to the people of Haiti and hope for the widow's full recovery. Thirdly, we hope that they will pursue all those involved to get to the root, who sponsored these people?, for obviously it was not a ragtag group — somebody must have sponsored them. Who were those persons? The investigations have to prove that,” Jamaica's longest-serving prime minister suggested.
He added that both the Organization of American States (OAS) and Caribbean Community (Caricom) were “in danger of getting what I call Haiti fatigue, because various efforts have been made and the results have not been positive, but Haiti is our member state and we cannot ignore it.”
Last Wednesday, Haitian officials confirmed that President Moise was killed during a pre-dawn attack on his private residence by men whom they said spoke Spanish and English. Moise's wife, Martine, was badly injured and flown to Florida, USA, for urgent treatment. Since the attack, Haitian police have confirmed that close to 30 Colombian nationals, and at least two American citizens were held. Four others were confirmed shot dead by official Haitian security personnel defending the office of the president.
So what should the next move be?, was the question posed to Patterson.
“In this situation, the president has been shot. Part of it is that he was insistent to hold a referendum, or change portions of the constitution, but there were objections to him because there were claims that his tenure expired in January of this year, and he had no legitimate position. My view is regardless of the circumstances, assassination must be condemned, and so we condemn it without any apology.
“As to what will happen next? First of all you will see that the man who claims to be president had been just nominated by Moise and was never confirmed, but he was the acting president. The senate has now met and named somebody else. I think there is going to be problems as to what is his legitimacy and authority, but the constitution does provide that when there is a vacancy, the chief justice steps in. However, there is no chief justice at the present time, because the previous incumbent died and this man is acting, because he never got confirmation by the national assembly.
“So while Caricom and the OAS must go in, the question is, who do we talk to, because this division of opinion makes it not only difficult but almost impossible,” said Patterson, in reference to the system of State administration whereby there is a divide between the president and the prime minister, with the prime minister must getting the approval of the Senate, on the nomination of the president.
There have been few times in Haiti's modern history that the president's nomination has achieved success through the Senate.
Patterson's political stocks rose regionally in the 1990s, but especially during the early part of the 2000-2010 decade, after Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was first overthrown in 1991 by the military which opposed his methods, was forced to flee Haiti amid disturbances in later years. Patterson hosted him at a residence in St Ann South Eastern for a time, against the wishes of powerful members of the United States Government.
Aristide, after trips to other places, including Africa, returned, eventually, to his native land where he still resides. He was the first democratically elected president of Haiti, serving in 1991, and from 1994 to 1996, then from 2001 to 2004.
Patterson said he has not been in contact with the popular Aristide, now 67, who is, among other things, a trained Catholic priest.
“No, I have not spoken to him on the matter, but it would be interesting to hear what he has to say. He is there in Haiti of course. He has not re-entered politics, obviously, but he has a group that consults him in whatever they do, or what they refrain from doing.”
Patterson also went back into history of how relations developed between Caricom and Haiti, something which later earned him the admiration of Caribbean nationals as a facilitator par excellence.
“After the first overthrow of Aristide and the victory of (Rene) Preval (who first served as president from 1996 to 2001; and again from 2006 to 2011) I made an official visit to Haiti. Rene Preval was then the president, and I said Haiti, which has done so much in the fight for Independence and in the abolition of slavery for all people who entered Haitian territorial space, must be treated with respect.
“But Haiti did not belong to any family of nations within this area and what we said is that we wanted Haiti to join the family (Caricom), as part of our contribution, we hoped, to establish stable democratic governments. In fact, at the meeting over which I presided, Prevel led a delegation and after meeting with heads, we agreed that they would be invited to join, and before we concluded, Preval came back and said, 'no, no, we don't want you to invite us to join, we want to join here and now, subject to the formalities that have to flow'. So we are very much involved and have worked very hard for the resuscitation of democracy in Haiti,” Patterson asserted.
Haiti became a full member of Caricom in 2002.
Moise came to power in October 2015, but claims of voter fraud forced another poll on November 2016 which he won with 55.6 per cent of the votes, beating an original field that involved 242 other nominees for president. However, there was always discord over when his tenure as president should end, which political watchers have argued could have been a contributing factor that led to his demise.