COHA: Barbados Creates Rift Within CARICOM
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Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere
Memorandum to the Press 05.59
Word Count: 2600
Monday, 6 June 2005
Barbados Creates Rift
Within CARICOM --
Who are the Heroes and Who are the
• The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) calls for an international investigation into former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal from office.
• An opportunistic Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, has led Barbados to break ranks with CARICOM by acknowledging Haiti’s Interim Government (IGH), led by U.S.-imposed Prime Minister Gérard Latortue.
• Arthur is ignoring CARICOM’s Charter respecting democracy, at the cost of weakening the Community.
• Powerful actors, namely Washington and Paris, influence the Community’s dilemma.
follows Washington’s strategy for democratization in the
CARICOM’s Principled Stance
Following the February 2004 ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) suspended Haiti from its membership and called for a UN investigation into the circumstances under which the new regime, backed by the United States, assumed power. Ultimately, Washington and Paris were able to use their institutional clout to avert a UN investigation, but CARICOM’s refusal to allow Prime Minister Gérard Latortue’s interim government (IGH) to participate in its councils, has demonstrated an intent to adhere to its charter principles of respecting democracy and the rule of law. Although CARICOM has refused to send military personnel to participate in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the organization has maintained an energized commitment to promoting dialogue between the warring Haitian factions, as well as within the international community.
CARICOM’s Unity Begins to Dissolve
Despite CARICOM’s initial high-minded stance in defense of democracy, it took less than six months for cracks to develop in the group’s united front. In July of 2004, Barbadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dame Billie Miller, along with her counterparts from four other CARICOM states (the Bahamas, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda), met with Latortue in Port-au-Prince. The governments’ decisions to send representatives to Haiti prompted outrage from other CARICOM members which were, as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said, “shocked at the extent to which some in CARICOM are going so as to prepare the ground to capitulate on our earlier principled stand on Haiti.” It could be said with more than a little accuracy that just as Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Barbados, have set a low mark for regional solidarity, none has turned in a more high-minded definition of the concept than St. Vincent’s Ralph Gonsalves.
Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur has not been perturbed in the least by the diplomatic strife stirred up by his Minister of Foreign Affairs’ trip to Port-au-Prince, since her words and deeds are entirely congruent with his own. Since then, Arthur has defended Barbados’ right to engage Haiti even if CARICOM does not collectively take this step. Barbados has continued to press for Haiti’s return to CARICOM while openly commenting on the deficiencies of the interim government. In a September 2004 address to the United Nations General Assembly, his Foreign Affairs Minister Miller remarked that the “events surrounding the abrupt departure of President Aristide remain a matter of deep concern, particularly as they pertain to the constitutionality of the removal of democratically elected leaders.” However, aside from this gilded rhetoric, Barbados is not sufficiently troubled by the existence of an unconstitutional government in the Caribbean to support an international inquiry as well as maintaining a policy of isolation at least until free and fair elections are held in Haiti. Rather, as Miller had explained the September before, Barbados “is convinced that full engagement with the interim government of Haiti best serves the interests of the Haitian people and reflects our stated desire to accompany them at this most difficult time in their history.”
The motives propelling Barbados’ initiatives toward engagement with Haiti are not that simple or clean; they diametrically oppose CARICOM’s position. Miller, speaking on behalf of CARICOM before the UN Security Council in January, after her Port-au-Prince visit with Latortue, commented that “[c]ontinuing violations of the principles laid down in the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society have made it impossible for the Community to receive representatives of Haiti in its Councils.” In addition, she pressed for the interim government “to be held to internationally recognized standards with regard to respect for fundamental civil and political rights, due process and the rule of law.”
The Latortue interim government, installed as the result of what was tantamount to a foreign-backed military coup, violates numerous provisions of the Charter on Civil Society, a document intended to “uphold the right of people to make political choices” and “to ensure continuing respect for internationally recognized civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.” Since taking office, Latortue has repeatedly and recklessly violated the Charter’s provisions on Respect for Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms (Article II), Equality Before the Law (Article V), Political Rights (Article VI), and Good Governance (Article XVII).
Once again, on May 22, it was reported out of Bridgetown that Prime Minister Arthur planned to “engage” Haiti - which apparently for him had become the word for “sell out.” In a telephone conversation with COHA, a political affairs officer at Barbados’ embassy in Washington explained that Arthur’s engagement policy is designed to promote a clear and unobstructed dialogue with Haiti, which it feels is preferable to isolation. Interestingly enough, the Barbados government made no demand that Latortue and Justice Minister Bernard Gousse release Haiti’s Prime Minister Neptune, who was detained for almost a year without charge, and other members of the Aristide government being detained without charges.
In addition, Barbados’ embassy official insisted that engagement with Haiti does not constitute an endorsement of the interim government and maintained that Barbados takes a dim view of the poor governance in Haiti as well as the treatment bordering on indifference accorded to former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. Similarly, Miller, in her September 2004 address to the UN General Assembly, portrayed Barbados’ movement toward “engagement” as being urged on by concern for the plight of the Haitian people while others saw it as naked opportunism.
Outside Forces Bring Pressure to Bear on Regional Agenda
Critics of those attempting to orchestrate Haiti’s return to CARICOM have been startled by the speed at which the organization - not typically renowned for swift and deliberate action - has been pressed to react to this issue. Unsurprisingly, influence from powerful western governments – led by the U.S. and often operating behind the scene - have provided the impetus for the actions by Barbados and other break-away Caribbean governments. As Bahamian Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell explained, the U.S. has “been pressuring CARICOM countries to invite the interim administration back to the table, arguing that this will help the stability of the Government in Haiti.” In fact, the Bahamian authorities have been persuaded by this argument, perhaps buttressed by hints that Washington would prove accommodating on the issue of the chain of islands’ paramount role as one of the major final destinations before illicit substances penetrate the U.S. market.
The fact that the IGH was put in place by powerful governments, specifically the U.S., France, and Canada, it is fundamental to Barbados’ decision to reconsider CARICOM’s original stance regarding Haiti. The U.S., which recently released thousands of small arms to the IGH’s brutal police despite an arms embargo that for years prevented Aristide’s security forces from being properly armed, has often twisted the arm of Caribbean leaders. U.S. officials like Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and Dan Fisk have let these leaders know that opposition to U.S. foreign policies would not pass unnoticed and could result in unfavorable consequences. In a stealth manner, the Bush administration has operated behind the scene while calling for international political support in the Haitian crisis. Barbados quickly caved in to the U.S. pressure on the CARICOM nations by acknowledging the legitimacy of Latortue’s regime in Haiti, taking with it half a dozen Caribbean countries, notably Jamaica, Grenada, the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda. By allowing themselves to be manipulated by the State Department, these summer solaces have, like Jamaica, followed a strategy of delivering clamoring speeches as if they were principled actors, yet actually succumbing to a mixture of U.S. threats and blandishments. Perhaps, Arthur would recall the speech by the Bush Administration’s former Latin America aide Otto Reich over Barbados’ television station warning the Caribbean to support the U.S. in Iraq or else.
Three CARICOM foreign ministers have avowed that the Bush administration threatened to not participate in any meeting with the Community until the IGH is restored to full participation in the regional organization’s operations. In addition, the U.S. had warned CARICOM members that the Bahamas meeting, discussing high stakes issues such as security, crime, and deportation of criminals by the U.S., would be adjourned until the IGH is officially welcomed as a full member. While it is permissible for a tiny nation to succumb to the dictates of the world’s sole superpower, given the vulnerability of the English-speaking islands, perhaps Prime Minister Arthur needs to emulate Prime Minister Gonsalves of St. Vincent, if he wishes to be included in the next address of “Profiles in Courage.”
Canada has continued its reckless policy of besmirching its formerly good name throughout Latin America by recklessly aping U.S. policy toward Haiti. Ottawa used its good offices to pressure CARICOM to move on and embrace the IGH. Minister of International Cooperation Aileen Carroll emphasized that such a decision would be in the interest of the Haitian people and the advancement of security on the island, ignoring the fact that, in truth, the situation has sharply worsened since Washington, with the connivance of Canada, France and Kofi Annan, installed Latortue at the head of the IGH.
Barbados and some Caribbean allies do not wish to undermine the region’s economic relations with France and the EU solely to adhere to CARICOM’s Charter principles. The New Regional Economic Participation Agreement that is being negotiated with the EU seems to be, according to the Barbados government, worth putting the Community’s members in a compromised situation and taking the risk of portraying CARICOM around the world as divided and weak-willed, and ready to be violated at a price. Integrating the IGH, without any respect for the right of Haiti’s citizenry to determine their own destiny through a voting process, is an expedient way to strengthen CARICOM’s relationship with France and the EU, but it has little to do with the expansion of democracy. The Owen Arthur government, as well as all Barbadians, must face up to the fact that in order to court favor with powerful regional actors, Barbados, among others, has abandoned its commitment to the core principles of CARICOM and disgraced themselves in the process.
The Importance of Cooperative Foreign Policies
Barbados’ Haiti strategy undoubtedly has created a rift within the already fragile Community. In an interview with COHA, senior lecturer at the Institute of International Relations, Anselm Lewis, confided that he would have preferred to see a united CARICOM position rather than individual countries acting on their own terms. He observed that “the fundamental issue here is the coordination of foreign policies.” Barbados, one the strongest members of CARICOM, should have respected the collective effort being attempted by St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other plucky CARICOM members. Instead, it irreverently disregarded the importance of a cooperative venture on the Haitian issue.
CARICOM is responsible for synchronizing the various foreign policies undertaken by the 15 independent members which make up the Community; Haiti is clearly a case where coordination was desirable. Prime Minister Arthur, all along partial to a swift recognition of the IGH, has dismissively ignored CARICOM’s prudent, common position based on legitimacy and constitutionality. Lewis agrees that although a hands-off approach is not always advisable, Arthur’s almost contemptuous attitude, so soon after Aristide’s expulsion, cannot contribute to a constructive ending. The haste with which Arthur tried to reach a consensus for full engagement with the IGH, is all but unprecedented, given the circumstances.
St. Lucian Prime Minister Kenneth Anthony and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Gonsalves have stalwartly, in fact heroically, resisted pressure from outside forces and continued to call for free and fair elections that would usher in a constitutional government in Haiti after an OAS investigation of Aristide’s departure, which would then qualify Haiti to have its suspension lifted. On the other hand, Arthur’s stance on Haiti, without question an attempt to curry favor with Washington, is a shortsighted and ill advised strategy, which can only add to Barbados’ already questionable credentials as having a government perpetually on the take. Arthur’s present stand is not surprising, given that he has always been considered one of the weaker links regarding upholding a democratic script when it came to CARICOM’s relations with Haiti’s U.S.-imposed rump government. In addition to lending support to an illegitimate and grossly incompetent Haitian government that has shown little consideration for the constitutionally-mandated right of due process for its own citizens, Arthur’s decision to move closer to Latortue undermines the Caribbean Community’s efforts to promote democracy in the region. This carries on a recent Barbadion tradition, save for the period when the island was led by the distinguished prime minister, Erskine Lloyd Sandiford (1987-1994), in which the country's leaders have served as bucket carriers for U.S. policy makers. Perhaps of all CARICOM’s leaders at the time, Sandiford struck an honorable stance on Haiti, in marked contrast to the role taken by Arthur, his successor.
Barbados’ attitude of assuming a bent knee posture in regard to Washington at least dates back to 1983 when the Tom Adams government cooperated with the contrived plot by the Reagan administration to justify the controversial U.S. invasion of Grenada by closing down Barbados’ airport so that U.S. students, attending Grenada’s St. George’s Medical School, would be unable to escape the island by flying to Bridgetown. The allegedly stranded students helped justify the invasion by U.S. forces, using the putative danger of the medical students as little better than hostages to U.S. imperialist policies.
While the majority of CARICOM’s member states support isolating Haiti from that body until free and fair elections are held, Barbados has indicated its willingness to waive its commitment to democratic procedures and overlook the plight of the Haitian citizenry so long as sufficient incentives – be they on immigration, drugs, trade, tax exemptions and grants- are forthcoming from the U.S. As for Arthur’s respect for Haitian democracy, to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Mussolini’s attack on France in 1940, “the hand that holds the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.” At the very least, Arthur owes an apology to his Caribbean neighbors and the suffering people of Haiti.
Moreover, Arthur’s move emphasizes the weakness of the region’s collaborative decision-making processes. To be taken seriously as a unified body, CARICOM needs to be perceived by the outside world as an example of inclusiveness and partnership. Barbados' so-called “engagement” policy could have a disastrous impact on efforts being made to strengthen CARICOM’s reputation regionally and internationally. If Caribbean states break rank at the first hint of an opportunity to score points with Washington or Brussels, then the regional body faces an uphill struggle to establish itself as an effective, relevant, self-respecting regional organization with a keen sense of its own sovereignty and collective pride. Prime Minister Owen Arthur has done nothing to strengthen these high-minded ideals, a fact that is bound to become increasingly well known.
This analysis was prepared
by COHA Research Associates Oceane Jasor and Phil
June 6, 2005
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