Haiti accession on agenda today
Aristide says committed to democracy By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 5, 2002

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Ahead of today's deliberation on Haiti's accession to the Caribbean Community, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide yesterday reiterated his commitment to a multi-party democracy.

Haiti has completed all the legal steps for accession to the community and deposited its Instrument of Accession on Tuesday with the CARICOM Secretariat.

Speaking with reporters at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel after the caucus session of the CARICOM Heads adjourned, Aristide said it was the first time that his eight million people would be part of a regional integration process in their long history.

He said that it was a critical step for the Caribbean Community, as Haiti's accession will mean an expansion of its economic base and an enlargement of its Common Market.

Haitians, Aristide said, were acutely aware that the destiny of the people of the region was so inextricably linked that Guyana's motto, one people, one nation, one destiny is pertinent to the 364,293 square kilometres that make the region.

"That is why we share the vision of all Caribbean (people) of a stable and prosperous environment which will facilitate an increase in the US$4.8 billion earned by the tourism industry, multiply 68,340 hotel beds and raise the level of exports which today stand at approximately US$5.5 billion."

He said that the need for the region to increase its efforts to achieve stability and prosperity was all the more evident as the Caribbean people must seek solutions to their common challenges of globalisation and its impact on smaller economies, degradation of the environment, poverty, unemployment, drug trafficking and corruption.

Answering questions about the political situation in Haiti, Aristide expressed optimism that the emissaries of the Organisation of American States (OAS), including St Lucia's Foreign Minister Julian Hunte, will be successful in getting the government and opposition to agree to an accord that would return the country to political normality.

Aristide also indicated that the OAS Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, had informed the CARICOM Summit yesterday that his government had successfully implemented the organisation's Resolution 806 and that if the opposition did not agree to the accord that the international community would have to re-think its position.

The Haitian Head of State also stressed that as President he has the responsibility of doing his utmost to see if all the political parties could sink their differences and work together for the development of the country. "I am ready to sit and listen to their proposals so that we can demonstrate the capacity of the Haitian people to share a common vision of one Haiti."

Asked if it would not have been better to hold fresh elections since the results of the last elections were being disputed, Aristide contended that the senators and deputies who were elected at the last elections had all decided to give up half of their term. He said that he was willing to hold elections to renew the mandate of half the seats in the House of Deputies in November, if the opposition agreed. However, if they did not, Aristide said, his government would hold parliamentary and local government elections by the end of the first half of next year to "nourish Haiti's democracy." He said that he intended to invite both CARICOM and the OAS to observe these elections.

On complaints about human rights violations, Aristide observed that the economic embargo placed on his country by some, denying his people the right to eat, to health care, to education was a violation of their human rights. He said that Haiti was paying US$5.5 million a year for funds and credits it was yet to receive.

Also, he pointed that the ability of the opposition parties to criticise was an index of how democratic Haiti is. He said that criticism benefited his government as one could learn more from criticism than flattery.

Aristide also reiterated his commitment to a free press, which he declared was essential to a vital democracy. But he said that it was important not to confuse civil rights, economic rights and political rights.

About accessing the resources of the Caribbean Development Bank, the Haitian president said that he had held exploratory talks with the president of the Caribbean Development Bank, Compton Bourne and when they next met he would have a more detailed discussion about projects for which his country needed assistance.

Aristide's encounter with the press was the second of two such conferences by individual Heads, held during the day. As a result of the caucus going beyond its scheduled time, the press conference was delayed more than an hour. The session was held up as a result of the Heads' decision to hear a presentation from the West Indies Cricket Board that was scheduled for consideration today. Other issues, which reportedly occupied the caucus were the report of the Task Force on Crime and Security and the financing of the Caribbean Court of Justice including identifying sources of funding for its start-up and for sustaining its operations over the long term.

Earlier in the day the CARICOM Heads - with the exception of Barbados' Prime Minister, Owen Arthur who has returned home because of illness - held discussions with the secretaries-general of the Association of Caribbean States, the Commonwealth, the Organisation of Caribbean States and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group countries as well as the director of the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the president of the Caribbean Development Bank. Chairman of the Conference, President Bharrat Jagdeo, described these encounters, at which a number of development issues were discussed, as very good.

At today's session, the CARICOM Heads will look at the round of negotiations before them, issues relating to the Single Market and Economy and the formulation of a long-term vision given the challenges ahead.