The Miami Herald
Feb. 06, 2004

Opposition rejects talks with Aristide

Caribbean Community leaders end a two-day mission to Haiti, saying President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his foes remain far apart.


  PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Hopes for reaching a peaceful settlement to Haiti's simmering crisis appeared dashed Thursday after key opposition leaders said they would refuse to negotiate with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

  A mission from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), headed by Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell and CARICOM Assistant Secretary General Colin Granderson wound up a two-day mediating visit with Aristide and his foes miles apart.

  A majority of opposition members aren't willing to budge from their stance that Aristide resign, according to Haitians who met with the CARICOM delegates, while Aristide is insisting that he will serve the rest of his term, which runs until 2006.

  ''We are willing to negotiate through which door he leaves the palace,'' said Evans Paul, leader of the Democratic Convergence, ``through the front door or the back door.''

  `A LIAR'

  Paul called Aristide ''a liar'' who can't be trusted to meet any of the conditions for a peaceful settlement. ``Aristide has zero credibility. If we negotiate with Aristide, we lose our credibility.''

  Leaders of the 15-nation CARICOM, which includes Haiti, have been shuttling between the two sides for several days now in search of some agreement to end the crisis and almost daily street protests that have killed some 50 people.

  CARICOM officials said Thursday they will nevertheless continue the mediation effort and will dispatch yet another delegation to Haiti in coming weeks.

  Kenneth Murray Cook, the Canadian ambassador to Haiti and a participant in the talks, said his country is ready to step in and back the CARICOM process but would not back sanctions -- an option raised by one CARICOM leader.


  ''Canada continues to play an active role in the process,'' Cook told The Herald. ``CARICOM leaders have made it clear, and Canada supports them in this, that economic sanctions would be an inappropriate tool to use to seek to influence events in Haiti as it would be the people of Haiti who would suffer.''

  Victor Benoit, a leading opposition member, said he was not optimistic about the CARICOM initiative because its leaders will soon realize that Aristide talks from both sides of his mouth.

  While Aristide was meeting with CARICOM leaders in Kingston, Jamaica, last week, Benoit alleged, ``his private army was wreaking havoc in Cap-Haitien.''

  Aristide pledged to implement ''confidence-building'' measures following the Jamaica meeting. But he had promised the Organization of American States to take those same steps two years ago during the hemispheric body's lengthy initiative to bring political calm to Haiti.

  Today, many of the steps have not been implemented even though the framework for doing so still exists, said Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general of the OAS.

  Einaudi said the OAS' special mission in Haiti already has 25 technicians on the ground who monitor the situation, everything from security concerns to demonstrations to the police. But it needs more help if chaos is to be avoided, he added.

  ''The crisis in Haiti is extremely severe, and there is a real chance it will not be solved peacefully and democratically. We have been working on it for some time. We can use all the help we can get,'' he told The Herald.


  While CARICOM does not have the financial power to force a resolution to the impasse -- OAS officials estimate it will cost $70 million to $100 million to pay for the security and other measures needed to resolve the crisis -- it does bring to the table a political and moral authority that Caribbean leaders hope will go a long way for both the opposition and government.

  ''The important thing about the CARICOM initiative is that in the search for a solution, it directly involves a group of prime ministers who are experienced, tough political hands with long records of being able to rule their countries well and who have resisted the totalitarian temptation.'' Einaudi said.