Joint mission to Haiti seeks to help solve crisis
Advance group from CARICOM, OAS headed to assess situation
BY YVES COLON
Facing prospects Haitians are unable, and unwilling, to work out
political differences on their own, leaders of the Western Hemisphere have
asked officials from two
regional organizations to form a joint mission to help the country out of its social crisis.
The mission, the latest and most significant so far in a string
of attempts to get Haiti out this yearlong impasse, will be composed of
officials from the Organization of
American States and CARICOM, the Caribbean Community's political and economic group. It is in direct response to a request by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in his remarks at the closing of the Summit of the Americas in Montreal last month.
LEADING THE EFFORT
OAS Secretary General César Gaviria and former Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica will lead the effort.
``Many people in the country and leaders have recognized that
Haiti is not going on the right track,'' Gaviria said in a telephone interview
from Washington. ``The
consequences of political instability have been damaging. The economy is not going well at all. They're having problems with public order, and some protests have been violent. It's damaging for Haiti to have these disagreements between the government and the opposition.''
Before Gaviria and Charles head to Haiti, though, an exploratory group led by OAS Deputy Secretary General Luigi Einaudi and his counterpart at CARICOM, assistant secretary general Albert Ramdin, is expected in the country's capital Port-au-Prince today. Several advisors from the Carter Center in Atlanta will join them.
They are expected to spend three days meeting with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and members of his Lavalas party, as well as with the opposition Convergence Democratique. This will be Einaudi's eighth trip to Haiti this year.
``If they see there are achievements, that it's a good environment, then we'll travel to Haiti,'' Gaviria said.
Einaudi, who stopped in Miami on Wednesday on his way to Haiti, said he has sensed some anxiety on the part of the Haitian players.
``There is great trepidation,'' he said. ``To achieve success will require compromise. Everyone is worried whose ox is going to be gored.''
Luc Espéca, a spokesman for Aristide, called the mission an encouraging development.
``It goes with what President Aristide said before, that he would make every effort with the international community to resolve the crisis,'' Espéca said.
Finding a solution to Haiti's crisis has become more pressing,
as the economy, already anemic, shows no sign of recovery. Part of the
reason is that Haiti has been
locked out of nearly half a billion dollars in loans and grants from the international community because of the electoral crisis. Foreign investment is at an all-time low, and companies there are finding it hard to operate because of severe blackouts.
Historically, bad economic times in Haiti has meant waves of migrants taking to the high seas to look for jobs in the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands, or the United States, or crossing the border into the Dominican Republic.
The dispute between Aristide and the Convergence Democratique, a coalition of 15 political parties, began with those May elections, which Lavalas candidates handily won. Leaders of the opposition said those elections were fraudulent. They then boycotted a second round, along with last November's presidential elections, which Aristide won by an overwhelming margin.
The convergence, which does not recognize Aristide's presidency,
has called for new legislative elections, along with the establishment
of an independent electoral
council. The OAS, which had a team of observers at those legislative elections, has only questioned the way the Lavalas-appointed electoral council went about counting the votes for between 8 and 10 senate seats. The OAS wants new elections for those seats, an independent electoral council, as well as financial help for other political parties and promises of safety for candidates opposed to Lavalas.
Several attempts by Aristide to bring the opposition to the negotiation table have failed. They had said they did not want to meet with Aristide either at the palace or at his home, but on Wednesday they turned down an invitation to meet at a museum.
``They sent a letter saying the museum was not neutral enough,'' Espéca said.
Gaviria said he believes those roadblocks can be removed.
``Haiti deserves all the attention from all of us,'' Gaviria said. ``This is the most significant effort that has been made so far.''