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Editorial: CARICOM must help Haiti

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2016 | 1:00 AM

Haiti is in danger of sliding into a new round of political and constitutional instability without, it seems, its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) seriously exerting themselves to avert, or at least contain, this potentially long-term crisis. It is not in CARICOM's, and certainly not Jamaica's interest that this should happen.

The current problem in Haiti is that President Michel Martelly's five-year term is hurtling to an end, but with no one to replace him when he leaves office on February 7. A new leader has not been elected.

There was, in fact, a first round of the presidential vote last October 25 when Juvenile Moise of Mr Martelly's Tet Kale party, was reported by the electoral authorities to be the leading candidate with just under 33 per cent of the votes. But no candidate got the 50 per cent to avoid a run-off. At the same time, the second-placed candidate, Jude Celestin, and others, claimed widespread fraud in favour of Mr Moise.

A CARICOM election observer mission agreed that there were "too many anomalies" in the voting process. They were, however, unable to conclude whether these were "accidental" or other causes, including poor training of electoral staff. There have been opposition demonstrations, and some violence, in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and other cities.

The run-off election has been postponed and with Mr Martelly soon to step down, there is a suggestion that an interim government should run the country until his successor is eventually elected. Another proposal is for Mr Martelly to remain in office until May, the date of his ceremonial inauguration, thus keeping his government in place and presiding over the run-off.

CARICOM appears to be little involved in these discussions , seemingly content to leave the role of influencing matters to the so-called Core Group - USA, Canada, Brazil, France, Spain - of countries that emerged to help guide Haiti's return to democracy after the 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

There is, perhaps, a view that these developments are merely Haiti's political process playing true to form. CARICOM, which ought to be an invested partner, might even claim Haiti-fatigue. That response would be unfortunate.

TWO OBSERVATIONS

We make, in this regard, two observations. First, the development of democracy, in which Haiti has not had much practice, can be a winding tortuous process. Second, the Anglophone Caribbean, the majority of whose citizens share a common ancestry with those of Haiti, owe much, to the Haitians for their psychological liberation.

Further, instability in Haiti, which worsens its already weak economy, won't be contained in that country. It will ultimately affect its neighbours, including their security. In the case of Jamaica, for instance, it could worsen the so-called drug-for-guns trade, in which narcotics from Jamaica are traded for small arms sourced in Haiti. There are also legitimate business interests at stake. Jamaican firms, including the poultry company, Jamaica Broilers, have invested in Haiti.

In 2004, in the lead up to Mr Aristide's ouster, CARICOM, led by Jamaica, asserted itself as a player, with a principled stance against the effort by the triumvirate of United States, Canada and France against the putsch. Jamaica insisted on the maintenance of constitutional processes. CARICOM, unfortunately, has not remained sufficiently invested. It needs to recapture that moment.