The Haiti factor Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
February 24, 2004

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GUYANESE turned out in unprecedented numbers yesterday to celebrate their country's 34th republic birthday.

Together with thousands of Guyanese and non-Guyanese coming from abroad, those in Georgetown converged on every conceivable place in close proximity to the route where costume bands paraded, making this year's Mashramani festivities one of the best but certainly the largest crowd puller in republic anniversary history.

Reports coming from Berbice indicated that the celebrations in the Ancient County outshone any we've seen since 1990. It's apparent elsewhere that Guyanese took President Jagdeo's advice to celebrate Mash '04 with "pride and passion."

This joy, unfortunately, didn't reverberate across the Caribbean, where national birthdays generally evoke carnival-like celebrations.

In Haiti, the first country in the region to gain political independence yet the last country in the Americas where anyone would opt to spend a vacation, that country's 8.3 million people are reliving much of the turmoil that preceded and followed its march to independence 200 years ago.

In a recent country profile on Haiti, the BBC had this to say: "The world's first black-led republic and the first Caribbean state to achieve independence, Haiti's pride has been dented by decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability and dictatorship which have left it as the poorest country in the Americas.

"A largely mountainous country with a tropical climate, Haiti's location, history and culture, epitomized by voodoo, with its associated music, drumming and dancing, had once made it a potential tourist hot spot. However, instability and violence, especially since the 1980s, have all but killed off this prospect."

The situation in Haiti remains volatile, with more than 50 persons dying in the violence that has resulted from clashes between government and rebel forces battling for control of the country - in spite of efforts by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat to mediate a compromise.

In fact, CARICOM did get President Jean Bertrand Aristide to agree to a peace plan that sought to meet many of the demands of the country's opposition. But that obviously hasn't worked and still isn't working.

Jamaica's Observer thinks it knows why. Says the Observer: "Mr. Aristide must have been exceedingly naive, at the resumption of his presidency after his first overthrow, if he harboured a view that he would have been allowed to maintain his leadership with any degree of certainty. And the rest of us were gullible to expect that the opposition would have entertained a political and constitutional solution to Haiti's current crisis.

"It is hardly coincidental that (Sunday's) capture, by the gunmen of Cap Hatien, and the new push for Port au Prince, comes hard on the heels of Mr. Aristide's second public embrace of a set of initiatives of which the United States has appropriated authorship, but which in fact was developed by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders at a meeting in Kingston last month...

"We do not believe that Mr. Aristide has been embracing or as proactive as he might have been in building Haiti's institutions and advancing the country's democracy. But neither do we hold that this is either the fundamental reason, or a legitimate cause, for this coup d'etat against him.

"Yet we understand now that the process was inevitable. Mr. Aristide and his Lavalas represented a potential for a paradigm shift in Haiti for the removal of power and influence from those who have traditionally benefited from the rightist dictatorships of the recent past."

As has other CARICOM countries, Guyana has done what it could to transform Haiti into a peaceful, democratically progressive nation. But in a state where violence has become traditional and where the lifespan of its citizenry is no more than 50 years (49 years for men, 50 years for women), there's only so much that any one country or bloc of nations can do.

As we write, the United States is sending about 50 marines to Port-au-Prince and France is pondering its options to go in aid of its former colony.

We can only hope that CARICOM's ongoing efforts to return civility to Haiti will bear fruit and that the people of that French-speaking CARICOM member state will soon put into practice what Guyanese are striving to do: work and live in unity to move their country forward