Politics of Seaga and Aristide
By Rickey Singh
August 24, 2003
‘The time is evidently overdue for more than polished criticisms by CARICOM of Aristide's failure…’
‘Strange style’: Jean Bertrand Aristide
IF THE Jamaica Labour Party is unnecessarily engaged in a non-political issue, in Haiti President Jean Bertrand Aristide is revealing a surprising lack of capacity to resolve a political impasse over arrangements for new parliamentary elections.
For all the years of experience, in and out of government, and the reputed political craftsmanship of its leader, Edward Seaga, the Jamaica Labour Party is now faced with the challenge to disengage itself from a controversy of its own creation:
That is, what it is presenting as Jamaica's likely involvement in perceived new moves for regional political federation.
First, the JLP sought to scare the government of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson into backing off from including Jamaica in arrangements for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the Privy Council in London as Jamaica's final appellate court, without referring the matter to a national referendum---as it has demanded.
The government has insisted that the Jamaica constitution does not make such a referendum a requirement and that it would not be pressurised against involving the country in the creation of the CCJ.
Then came media reports out of possible negotiations between the government and opposition for a practical time-frame for Jamaica to sever links with the Privy Council for the CCJ to also become the nation's appellate court of last resort.
But it is the controversy the JLP has injected into the body politic with its claim that the governing People's National Party (PNP) was manoeuvring to take Jamaica "blind folded", or through "the back door", into a new political federation that may come to embarrass the party in its impatient wait to form the next government.
In its provocative stance, JLP's top personnel, among them spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Bruce Golding, have been citing plans to establish a CARICOM Commission with executive power to improve governance of the Community's business, as indicative of the subtle drift towards political union with Jamaica on board.
Seaga himself has sought to link official discussions about the promotion of a more focused approach by the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians as signalling yet another attempt to drag Jamaica into a form of governance that could lead to political federation.
‘Challenge’: Edward Seaga
Both Golding and Seaga are experienced enough in the politics of CARICOM not to know that the proposed empowered Commission to enhance effective governance of the Community's business, especially with the inauguration of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, can hardly be the basis for a political federation of Community states that includes Jamaica.
So far as the regional Assembly of Parliamentarians is concerned, it is merely a deliberative body that has been functioning extremely poorly with no more than three meetings, as I can recall, since its inauguration in Barbados in May 1996.
It is amazing that it could be associated as yet another example by the Patterson government to manoeuvre Jamaica into political union mode. The evidence of this is lacking--as it also is in the example given by the JLP in relation to the proposed CARICOM Commission.
It seems a non-issue, spawned to score points in local politics. And it is being pursued, even in the face of the position repeatedly made pellucidly clear by Patterson, that his party and government had no intention of taking Jamaica into any political federation either "through the front door, back door, side door or a window".
And what of the politics in Haiti where the government and opposition remain poles apart on resolving outstanding differences over arrangements for new parliamentary election, including having in place the Provisional Electoral Council acceptable to all sides?
Apart from the usual political rhetoric in Port-au-Prince, there continues to be inflexibility over arrangements to establish the Electoral Council. Hence, reaching an agreement soon for the new election to take place appears as distant as they were at the time of CARICOM'S statement of December 8, 2002.
Then, the Community's leaders found it necessary to call for a speedy resolution to the impasse over the creation of the Electoral Council.
Since then, there have instead been reports of widening differences and further political violence, allegedly instigated by Aristide's administration, including against dissenting voices in the media and opposition groups.
Aristide, the once famous "pastor of the people" who forsook the priesthood to enter politics in his heroic struggle against the evils of 'duvalierism', normally turns on the charm when he appears at meetings of CARICOM heads of government, the latest being last month's summit in Montego Bay.
But he always seems to cherish more the reputation of an "Anancy" character in modern Haitian politics, more than the priest-cum politician who is serious about promoting reconciliation, healing wounds and finding solutions to protracted social and political problems.
Not surprisingly, therefore, last month's CARICOM Summit in Montego Bay issued a communique that, in reference to Haiti, recorded the Heads of Government’s "sense of disappointment that undertakings made by the (Aristide) government had not been fully complied with".
The Community leaders, underlying a pervasive feeling of "battle- fatigue" in the international community over Haiti's political situation, called for the Aristide government to urgently create a "security environment conducive to the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council".
President Aristide was not present for the final draft of that communique. As is his customary practice, he is never around for the closing session of a CARICOM summit, or inter-sessional meeting, even when, as frequently happens, he turns up late for the start of such events.
A well-known Caribbean novelist has just shared with me some very unflattering views of Aristide's rule in Haiti, as expressed to him by two Haitians, the writer, Frank Etienne, and an academic, Professor Lyonel Trouillot, he met in Martinique two weeks ago.
In responding to questions about how he would evaluate Aristide's rule following his restoration to power in 1994 with the help of the American military, the writer Etienne, was caustic in his assessment.
In a nutshell, he characterised Aristide as one who had cultivated a "strange, grotesque dictatorial style under the form of a populist democracy which, at bottom, is nothing more than a dangerous form of anarchist populism..."
Both the writer and the academic also offered some very startling accounts to the Caribbean novelist, some of which have been reported in regional and international media accounts, of cases of rape and torture and muzzling of and threats to the physical safety of Haitian journalists by the Aristide regime.
The time is evidently overdue for more than polished criticisms by CARICOM of Aristide's failure to get that Electoral Council in place and for electoral democracy to be experienced in Haiti--as happened following the collapse of the Duvalierist dynasty.