Myrtha Desulme, Contributor
A Haitian boy stands at the Croix de Bouquets Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti September 5, 2006, where more than 60
children receive care. - Reuters
CARICOM'S total population is about 14 million, 60 per cent of which are Haitian, making the most-spoken language in CARICOM not English, not even French, but Haitian Creole, the language of the majority.
OK, no need to panic! Just a little shock therapy to see whether you were paying attention! CARICOM being a monolingual organisation, (quite a rare phenomenon in the world of international institutions), has already declared that English will remain the official language of the community, though it has conceded that efforts should be made to deepen the use of French in the region.
A great number of Haitians speak English, either because they have studied in American universities, or have at some point lived in the U.S. Be that as it may, the hard opening facts above are nevertheless the prism through which some Haitians view CARICOM.
The integration of Haiti into CARICOM remains the biggest challenge, which the community has yet to face, owing to the social, linguistic, judicial, political, and economic obstacles to be overcome. How will we reconcile Haiti's judicial system, which is based on the French Napoleonic Code, with the Caribbean Court of Justice's English common law regime? Owing to IMF dictates, Haiti has the lowest tariffs in the region. The question of tariff harmonisation will also have to be resolved if Haiti is to join CARICOM's Common External Tariff. Many quandaries still remain to be sorted out. If this integration is achieved, however, it will be CARICOM's most rewarding milestone, and a great triumph for the hemisphere as a whole.
The Caribbean has inherited a three-fold pattern of division from its former colonisers:
The traditional enmity, which existed between France, Spain and Britain.
A "divide and conquer"
policy which the European powers used to maintain control.
The systematic isolation of Haiti, as the country which won its Independence on terms that the metropolis considered unthinkable and unacceptable, (the seizure of the State, and the banishment of the French).
There is a great movement afoot to undo these centuries of division and the isolation of Haiti, the
"sacrificial lamb" - the country which paid such an exorbitant price for pioneering, through the sacrifice of blood and fire, the cycle of emancipation and decolonisation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti was granted provisional membership in CARICOM in 1997, and became a full member in 2002. After a 28-month suspension, owing to the unconstitutional ouster of President Aristide, and the imposition of a puppet interim regime by the U.S., CARICOM has welcomed Haiti back into its fold in response to the return of democratic rule, after the election of René Préval in February.
Although present trade with CARICOM is only 1 per cent of Haiti's total trade with the rest of the world, it is likely that it will rise in the median to long-term, owing to better access to trade information and harmonisation of rules and standards, which will help to open business horizons and opportunities.
Haiti is a virgin market, which needs everything. Its nine million people represent a vast market for goods and services. The Haitian import market is more than US$3 billion per year. There is a tremendous amount of business to be done, and CARICOM cannot only foster Haiti's development, but also benefit from the expanding networks. Mobile telecommunications giant Digicel, which is operating in 20 Caribbean countries, has found Haiti to be its most profitable market. International propaganda notwithstanding, those in-the-know know that the Haitian people are a great nation - resilient, hard-working, honest and resourceful - who have boosted the economies of The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands Dominica, the U.S.A., Canada and France. Haiti's labour force benefits from a structural youthfulness, as 40 per cent are under 15 years old, 55 per cent are under 65, and only 5 per cent are over 65.
CARICOM members will open banks and businesses in Haiti. Competition of more firms opening businesses will help to make Haitian firms more efficient and create employment. A wider variety of goods and services will become available at better prices to the Haitian consumer. Direct foreign investment and private and sovereign loans are bound to increase with integration, and stimulate
Membership in a large economic bloc will strengthen Haiti's
in international negotiations with institutions such as WTO, FTAA, etc. The Regional Negotiating Machinery of CARICOM can be an appropriate instrument for strengthening Haiti's bargaining position in trade negotiations, and giving it a more effective voice in international fora. Existing free-trade agreements between CARICOM and other countries will automatically benefit Haiti.
Some trade gains can accrue immediately in areas where Haiti already has a competitive advantage, such as arts and craft. Haiti's art is widely appreciated and acknowledged as being incontestably the most original of all Afro-Caribbean cultural manifestations. Haiti has a cultural identity which distinguishes it from other CARICOM countries. There can be no doubt that British imperial rule has more profoundly shaped the nations under it than the French system was able to do in Haiti, falling short of about 160 years of British influence.
During the last CARICOM Conference, the Heads of Government meeting in St Kitts pointed to Haiti's cultural usefulness in terms of Caribbean integration, in the following statement:
"It is necessary to point out that Haiti has a great contribution to make to Caribbean life in terms of culture, and to the development of a Caribbean identity."
CARICOM leaders have paid many wonderful tributes to Haiti's historical significance and cultural richness, and have often expressed their eagerness to assist Haiti, and embrace her into the Caribbean family; but they have systematically failed to give any tangible demonstration of this goodwill to the Refugees, who have collapsed on their doorsteps, in search of protection and assistance.
Haiti is Africa in the Caribbean. She is actually the eldest daughter of France and Africa. Haiti is: roosters crowing at dawn, coffee plucked wild from mountainsides, red sunsets plunging behind majestic mountain peaks, headlong valleys, bright and exotic flowers, vast ruins of a glorious past, the call of the conch, drums and burning cane fields in the night, rum from ancient iron kettles, proud peasants, sparkling seas, dainty gingerbread houses, exquisite French Creole cuisine, romance from the catch of a meringue, the swirl of white-robed priestesses dancing for the gods of Africa, a French taste for luxury and refinement, an explosion of art, colour and music.
Embracing Haiti means that the Caribbean would have come full circle, and matured to the point where it is now ready to return to its roots. This does not mean regression as some might think. It does not mean that we do not also embrace all of the other ethnic and cultural influences which form an integral part of who we are, making us "Out of Many, One People". It just means that we embrace and honour our full identity in all of its multifaceted and multicultural diversity, so that the Caribbean can take its place within the family of nations, not as dependencies, but as a strong unit, confident in its unique identity, "walking with heads erect, proud owners of a New World, admitting no inequality, feeling no inferiority, only a great humility and wonder, for the Destiny that shall be theirs." (H.D. Carberry)
Myrtha Dsulmis President of the Haiti-Jamaica Society.