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Cablegate: Anxious Prime Minister Requests Meeting On Haiti

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NASSAU 000364

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL SMIG BF HA
SUBJECT: ANXIOUS PRIME MINISTER REQUESTS MEETING ON HAITI

REF: A) NASSAU 211 B) NASSAU 212 C) NASSAU 263 D)
NASSAU 322

Classified By: CHARGE ROBERT M. WITAJEWSKI FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

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Summary
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1 (C) At a special luncheon function to honor Junior
Achievement on February 19, Prime Minister Christie twice
came to the Charge's table to request an "urgent" meeting the
morning of February 20, later set for 12:30 in the PM's
office. As events in Haiti continue to deteriorate, the
sense of vulnerability by the Government of the Commonwealth
of The Bahamas (GCOB) at being overwhelmed by mass Haitian
migration continues to grow. In this light, both the PM and
Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell have exerted considerable time
and energy in recent weeks to mediate peace talks between
President Aristide and the opposition (reported reftels A, B
and C). Increasing deterioration in conditions in Haiti are
also reinforcing the Bahamian Government's sense of
dependence on the United States in the event uncontrolled
Haitian migrant outflows occur. At the 60 minute meeting on
February 20 in his private office, PM Christie updated Charge
on recent developments on Haiti from his Government's
perspective.
END SUMMARY

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FOREIGN MINISTER BRIEFS THE UN
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2. (C) Christie initiated the discussion with a report on
Foreign Minister Mitchell's just-concluded presentation at
the United Nations General Assembly that morning. The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs later faxed the Embassy a copy of
Mitchell's speech, which focused on the CARICOM proposal,
including a constitutional role for a Prime Minister, rules
governing protests and demonstrations by the opposition, the
professionalization of the Haitian National Police, and
additional security and economic support. FM Mitchell also
called for the international community to "provide immediate
security assistance to bring stability to Haiti, including
helping the legitimate authority of Haiti to restore law and
order and disarm the elements that now seek to violently
overthrow the government, and who have interrupted
humanitarian assistance." Mitchell continued using -- for
him -- unusually strong language: "Those armed gangs who seek
now to overthrow the constitutional order should be urged to
lay down their arms and if not they should be disarmed."

3. (C) Christie related to Charge that in New York Mitchell
had sought out and obtained additional support, particularly
from Central and South American countries, for the CARICOM
approach. Christie was particularly proud that Bahamian
efforts had resulted in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Argentina
agreeing to send police or military to Haiti as he observed,
wryly, that these three countries did not normally agree with
the U.S. of late. Christie also announced that FM Mitchell
and Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega would fly to Haiti
Saturday to continue to work all sides of the issue.
Christie spoke authoritatively about conversations between FM
Mitchell and A/S. Noriega and between Mitchell and NSC
Western Hemisphere Director Tom Shannon. He also indicated
that he had been in contact with members of the U.S.
Congressional Black Caucus to allay their "deep concerns"
about the "good faith" of the U.S. and others in seeking a
resolution to Haiti's crisis.

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A RELUCTANT ROLE IN HAITI FOR MITCHELL?
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4. (C) The Prime Minister described his week of frantic
conference calls on the Haitian crisis and a U.S. preference
for the Bahamian Foreign Minister to play a new, and
significant on-going role in Haiti as the third member in a
tripartite committee that, Christie seemed to believe would
effectively serve as a kind of "Council of Wise Men" in
governing the country. Christie said that as he understood
current plans, the council would be composed of three
members: a representative from the Haitian Opposition, an
independent Haitian Prime Minister, and Bahamian FM Mitchell
representing Caricom and others. According to the Prime
Minister, however, President Aristide had expressed
reservations about the constitutionality of formally creating
such a body. However, Christie continued, he believed from
his conversations with him that President Aristide would
accept an arrangement in which the same group would
"informally" advise him on matters.

5. (C) Continuing his exposition, Christie then went on to
say that his preferred solution would be for the United
States or the French to assume the leadership of this body
and supply the "third member" rather than The Bahamas.

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PRIME MINISTER WORKS THE PHONES IN NASSAU -- DEFERS TO U.S.
AS "TOP DOG"
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6. (C) The Bahamian Prime Minister appeared comfortable in
his newly-assumed role of international mediator. He noted
that he had spoken "at least a dozen times" with Haitian
President Aristide of late, and this week alone reported that
he had spoken with the Haitian President at least once each
day. Explaining his frequent telephone conversations, PM
Christie declared that, given the urgency of the situation,
he did not want to risk having his message diluted or
distorted "by leaving (the resolution of the crisis) to
ambassadors."

7. (C) Noting that President Aristide had claimed that
"bandits" were responsible for attacking the Opposition, not
government forces, PM Christie said that each time he spoke
with Aristide he had stressed the importance of Aristide
appealing directly to the U.S., France, or Canada for
assistance in re-equipping Haitian police so that law and
order could be restored. Christie indicated some sympathy
for Aristide's claimed plight, telling Charge that "there is
simply no way that a demoralized police force of less than
5,000 can maintain law in order in a country of more than 7
million." Christie seemed hopeful that the U.S. would
reconsider its position against supplying the Haitian police
with lethal weapons, and at a minimum do more to support the
Haitian police with non-lethal support.

8. (C) Christie indicated his preference for continued
direct high-level involvement in Haiti. He felt that it was
important that he and others at the head of state level
continue to involve themselves in the situation and interact
directly with Aristide in order to reinforce the urgency of
the situation. Christie said that it had been his idea to
contact South African President Thabo Mbeki to try to involve
him in Haiti. It would be appropriate, he said, for the
world's "newest black nation" to help the world's "oldest
black nation." At regular intervals during the one-hour
meeting, Christie reiterated the pleas for assistance to
restore law and order in Haiti made by himself and others to
Secretary Powell, President Bush, Secretary General Annan,
and the O.A.S.

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SYMPATHIZES WITH ARISTIDE'S CONCERNS
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9. (C) Christie stressed his agreement with his Foreign
Minister that the best resolution would be an agreement that
conferred some "dignity" to Aristide. Christie specifically
sympathized with Aristide's complaint that he (Aristide) was
being asked to take unconstitutional actions. The Bahamian
Prime Minister indicated that based on his conversations with
Aristide, he believed that Aristide was not opposed to
working with the opposition on the joint appointment of a
new Prime Minister and subsequently a new cabinet, but is
objecting to being left out of the process or becoming a
figurehead for the remainder of his term in office. Christie
also made clear his position that President Aristide is
Haiti's legitimately elected constitutional leader. But
Christie then coupled this principled stand with an
evaluation of the state of the Haitian opposition from his
position as a practicing politician. "Even with a year to
organize," he said, "the opposition will not match Aristide's
level of support, and would lose if Aristide decided to run
again, which he will not."

10. (C) In this vein, Christie volunteered what he thought
might be the outcome of the February 21 talks in Port au
Prince, Christie said that he assumed that the United States
had the power to achieve a solution. Christie said that he
was confident that A/S Noriega "had the clout" to bring
Haitian Opposition leader Apaid around, and that once Apaid
signed on to an agreement, the rest of the Opposition "would
follow" in permitting President Aristide to serve his term
out since they couldn't organize themselves to win an
election now.

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TURNING TO THE U.S. IN EVENT OF AN OUTFLOW FROM HAITI
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11. (C) Turning from the crisis in Haiti to the consequences
for The Bahamas if that country's political instability
results in a migrant outflow, PM Perry Christie went on at
great length to reiterate his determination to build a deep
water port at Great Inagua that would serve as his country's
strategic southern base. As he lamented: "The Haitian
problem isn't going to go away for years to come." Given
this reality, he was convinced that the Royal Bahamian
Defence Force (RBDF) will always need to patrol the country's
vast southern waters. Moreover, he continued, the drug
problem will always be there, and The Bahamas faces a
consistent problem of fish poaching in by neighboring
countries. According to Christie, "Last year the Dominican
Republic exported $2 million in conch, and their ain't no
conch in Dominican waters!" Clearly, he declared, it is in
the best interests of The Bahamas to have a deep water port
and refueling station at its southern tip. Christie
reiterated the common interests of the United States in
having access to a similarly-situated facility and again
asked for the Charge's help in obtaining U.S. funding for
construction of a harbor and breakwater at Great Inagua.

12. (C) Charge responded that the U.S. would like to support
the Bahamian plan, but that it had been extremely difficult
to get RBDF and National Security officials to go beyond
global declarations and obtain specific plans regarding GCOB
intentions on Great Inagua. Given budgetary constraints in
the United States, Charge explained that until specific plans
were forthcoming, backed up by a GCOB actually committing its
own funds, U.S. agencies would be reluctant to even consider
blocking off possible funding. Noting that the U.S. was
already looking at FY 06 budgets, Charge urged the Prime
Minister to accelerate internal GCOB decision-making on Great
Inagua. The Prime Minister agreed, indicating that his
government is willing to work out the details immediately.

13. (C) In addition to construction of a southern strategic
base in Great Inagua, the Prime Minister also revealed that
he was in negotiations to conclude an agreement with Royal
Caribbean Cruise Line to build a deep water port at Great
Inagua. Though the island is currently barren, it is home to
more than 50,000 pink flamingos, a huge Morton Salt plant,
and at least one nice beach. He was hoping that the flamingo
national park would provide cruise ship passengers with an
interesting diversion to the normal Caribbean port of call.
Christie took on board Charge's suggestion that costs of
constructing a base on Great Inagua could effectively be
reduced if any Royal Caribbean construction were to be made
part of the GCOB's plans.

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NO ASYLUM
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14. (C) Regarding what The Bahamas would do in the event
that large numbers of Haitians started appearing on Bahamian
territory, the Prime Minister indicated that he would turn to
the United States to effect repatriation. The Bahamas, he
said, simply had no capacity to maintain large numbers of
migrants for any period of time. Declaring that he had no
concert with "those liberals" on this issue, he declared that
there would never be asylum in The Bahamas for Haitians. The
total population of The Bahamas was, he said, "less than that
of a small town in the United States. We simply cannot do
what Amnesty International and other groups would insist on
us."

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OPERATION COMPASSION HAS A NEW RELEVANCE
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15. (C) Christie was surprisingly well versed on the
proposed latest iteration of Operation Compassion, a joint
patrolling exercise that involves enhanced communication and
coordination between the RBDF and the U.S. Coast Guard. PM
Christie reported that the Cabinet had discussed
participation in "Op Compassion" the previous day and had
approved Bahamian involvement. As the Haitian crisis has
evolved, the GCOB has deliberately taken steps in its public
comments to publicize an increased RBDF presence in southern
Bahamian waters. Charge indicated that we believed that the
USCG would be prepared to engage in planning discussions for
this iteration of Op Compassion as early as March 3-4.

16. (C) However, as Ref D reports, only four of the eight
RBDF vessels capable of long range patrolling are
operational. Charge queried the Prime Minister on the return
to service date of the HMBS Bahamas noting that effective
Bahamian participation in this six-month extended "Op
Compassion" required that there be at least three functioning
RBDF vessels (the HMBS Bahamas, Nassau, and Yellow Elder) so
that one would be on station 24/7 throughout the exercise.
Similarly, Charge noted that the logistics of keeping a
Bahamian vessel on site 24/7 also presumed that the RBDF
vessels would re-fuel and re-provision at Guantanamo Naval
Base rather than make extended return trips to its home port
of Coral Harbour in New Providence. Finally, Charge noted
that we would need assurances of the commitment and
cooperation of RBDF Commodore Rolle to commit the necessary
assets to the operation. PM Christie responded that the
repairs have started and completing them is a government
priority. He also acknowledged Commodore Rolle's reluctance
to commit the necessary assets by explaining that Rolle
claims he needs to keep some ships in reserve in the event of
other problems in other areas of the country. The Prime
Minister said that he overrode the Commodore's objections by
asking him rhetorically, "What other crisis could impact on
The Bahamas right now that is more critical than preventing a
migrant outflow from Haiti?"

17. (C) Closing this part of the discussion, the Prime
Minister also urged the U.S. to simplify matters by providing
fuel to RBDF vessels at no cost, as the relative costs are a
mere "drop in the bucket" for the U.S. As Charge responded
that refueling costs to the GCOB would probably be much lower
at Guantanamo than in Nassau, the Prime Minister jokingly
accused Charge of "trying to nickel and dime me!" while
thanking him for not yet pressuring him for an Article 98
agreement in the meeting.

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COMMENT
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18. (C) The fact that the over-programmed Prime Minister
would budget more than one hour for a meeting on one day's
notice speaks to the overriding importance Haiti has in local
politics. PM Christie is clearly committed to remaining
engaged on finding a solution to the Haitian problem, and
accepts that this is currently the dominating project of his
Foreign Minister, who is also the Minister of Public Service.
While his decision-making style may be protracted and
indecisive, Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie is also an
impressive, dynamic, charismatic and ebullient presence and
an indefatigable seeker of consensus. For the purpose of
promoting peace in Haiti, his personality compliments that of
Foreign Minister Mitchell, which is steadier, stealthier, and
more methodical. Given The Bahamas' proximity to Haiti, both
feel The Bahamas has no choice except engagement.
WITAJEWSKI

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