Haiti's prolonged agony Guest Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 2, 2004

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MUCH has been made of the extraction by France in 1825 of a substantial bounty as a condition of foregoing continued military assault on the rebel Caribbean colony of Haiti.

The argument is put that were it not for this, Haiti could have developed a healthy, sustainable economy. But 179 years should be more than enough time for a country with rather more natural resources than many in the region to rise above such depths of adversity, despite periodic foreign interference.

The roots of Haiti's misery lie in several areas, not least a lack of proper political administration and even the semblance of social and entrepreneurial structures.

Ironically, some commentators have taken the position that a larger period of colonisation might have been to Haiti's advantage.

This was not to be, but the inescapable fact is that the Western Hemisphere's first black republic is mired in illiteracy and poverty, is ranked 150th among 175 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, and is once again torn by bloody insurrection.

It was thought that election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in what was officially a democratic process would have started Haiti on the road of good governance, a dream cherished for fully two centuries. This, too, was not to be.

The ruling Lavalas Party is slightly less despised and hated than Mr. Aristide by large numbers of the population. And the supposedly democratic elections were conducted in circumstances that cast a heavy shadow on the president's integrity.

Subsequent reneging on promises for social reform as well as to correct serious flaws in the electoral process have only served to intensify public disaffection with the current administration. In this atmosphere tempers have again flared, this time with even more horrific consequences than that troubled country has known for decades.

It is clear that opposition forces, students and rebel gangs want nothing short of Mr. Aristide's removal, voluntary or otherwise.

After several weeks of increasingly huge demonstrations, some of them broken up by heavily armed police and state militia, those opposed to the government have taken over major portions of the country. Several police officers and army personnel have either fled or transferred loyalty to the rebels, while senior public servants and prominent ruling party officials are increasingly withdrawing their support for Mr. Aristide.

Looting, revenge killings and other retaliatory attacks are commonplace. What the world is witnessing is a classic descent into anarchy.

But Haiti is a member of CARICOM, no matter how prematurely that relationship was granted, and a sub-committee of the regional organisation has been urgently working on a peace initiative. The effort included separate discussions with Haiti's government and opposition representatives, as well as with United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The Americans are mildly sympathetic to CARICOM's proposal for a transitional government with the rival camps sharing power, an interim prime minister appointed, reduced authority for Mr. Aristide and new elections in about six months. But the insurgents say they will not accept any solution which allows the president to remain in office.

As the situation grows bloodier by the day, France is calling for the intervention of a multinational peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations. Some CARICOM states are reportedly in favour of this option.

The United States has dispatched a contingent of marines to safeguard its embassy and personnel and property, while issuing a warning that any Haitian refugees will be sent back home.

Haiti's next-door neighbour, the Dominican Republic, has closed its borders, and Jamaica is fearful that in excess of 1 000 Haitians estimated to have fled their homeland will force many of the increasing exodus onto her shores.

CARICOM's responsibility in this awful mess should be no greater than France's.

(Reprinted from the Barbados Nation edition of February 29, 2004)