The Miami Herald
Sat, Mar. 27, 2004
Regional leaders choose a neutral stance on Haiti

Caribbean Community leaders opt to remain uncommitted in their relations with Haiti's new government.


BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - Torn over Haiti, a summit of Caribbean leaders Friday decided not to recognize nor reject the interim government that replaced its democratically elected president.

The decision to do nothing, which is contrary to the United States' push for diplomatic recognition of Haiti, is in step with the policy of The Bahamas. Less than 100 miles from Haiti, The Bahamas has maintained steady relations with Port-au-Prince throughout its long history of coups and rebellions without showing approval or disapproval.

''Our diplomats have remained there, and the question of announcing recognition didn't even arise,'' said Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell. ``We just worked with who was in effective control. . . . That is just the way it has been.''

Leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community decided to revisit their decision not to decide on recognizing the government of Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue after meeting with him in July.

At Friday's meeting, they did reaffirm Haiti's membership in CARICOM. The issue had been touched off by resignation of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29 amid a bloody revolt.

Their consensus came after a day of intense debate, summit officials said, despite a last-ditch effort Friday morning by Latortue to win his neighbors' active approval.

Latortue faxed a statement that he hoped would ease the Caribbean leaders' concerns about his leadership and recent remarks. It did not go far enough, leaders said.

Several leaders said they preferred avoiding the issue of recognition, which would be either a victory or an embarrassment for Latortue.

CARICOM may continue with announced plans to send humanitarian aid and contribute troops to a U.N. peacekeeping force that would replace the current U.S.-led multilateral force by June.

Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister, Patrick Manning, said his country was prepared to contribute 121 soldiers to a stabilization force.

Before last week, CARICOM leaders seemed poised to put aside their concerns over Aristide's allegations that U.S. officials had forced him to resign on Feb. 29.

But they grew angry after Latortue threatened to suspend relations with CARICOM -- in retaliation for Jamaica's letting Aristide visit -- and his referring to some of the notoriously brutal rebel leaders as ``freedom fighters.''

Yvon Simeon, Haiti's new minister of foreign affairs, told The Herald in Haiti that his country had not frozen relations with its neighbors and that the world is making too much of Latortue's reference to "freedom fighters.''

''We have asked them to put down their weapons and they have obliged,'' he said. ``If they break laws they will be arrested and judged accordingly.''

But Mitchell said, "You can't embrace an administration that says it embraces people that wish to overthrow an administration by violence.''

Herald staff writer Michael Ottey contributed to this report.