Made up mostly of English speaking former British colonies, the 15-nation Caribbean Community has occasionally taken flak from critics for not being active enough in engaging and assisting Haiti, its most populous and poorest member nation.
Caricom defenders have countered these allegations, contending that decades of political instability, the sometimes negative influence of western nations in daily affairs and a string of unfortunate natural disasters have all worked against a consistent system of engagement with Haiti, the last nation to join the bloc back in 2002. Haiti, which speaks French and French Creole, and Suriname which speaks Dutch, are the only non-English speakers in the regional integration movement.
Caribbean leaders who met for two days at their mid-year summit in Belize last week appear to have had extensive discussions on things Haitian during the summit. Prime Minister Ariel Henry and other top officials attended the first in-person conference held since the early 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. The family members appeared to have agreed on a way forward, especially so because Prime Minister Henry asked for and received pledges and commitments for assistance in a number of areas.
For example, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home by suspected Colombian mercenaries in early July of last year, then regional bloc chair and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne had complained bitterly about Haiti’s absence from important Caricom meetings. He had argued back then that their absence had stymied efforts for more fruitful engagement with the island nation of 11 million. He had then called for a more constituent attendance rate for Haiti.
In the communique issued at the end of last week’s meeting, leaders reported that Henry complained that “democracy is in decline, institutions are dysfunctional and collapsing,” adding that “he spoke of the need to restore democracy and the constitutional framework through elections, to address insecurity, and to lay the foundation for future development.”
The result is that the delegation sought and obtained agreement from Caricom to establish a special team to interface with Haitian counterparts as well as the international community. There was no word on the make-up of their team or when it would commence work but the leaders say they are in a state of alarm over the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis and mounting insecurity.
PM Henry also asked and received pledges from member nations to assist the island as a third party honest broker in facilitating dialogue with non-regional actors, help in addressing insecurity, strengthening democracy, preparing for and staging elections, training of police and other key personnel and guidance into the assassination of President Moïse.
Officials said that Henry’s presentation to Caricom was certainly not the first in bringing leaders up to date on the situation back home, but was among the most extensive as he addressed most of the pressing issues including perennial struggles to organize peaceful elections and in maintaining security from increasingly powerful and well-funded street and district gangs.
Apart from the instability stemming from Moïse’s assassination, the island has had problems sourcing COVID-19 vaccines resulting in it having the lowest inoculation rate in the bloc. As authorities were battling with Moïse’s murder, a storm killed hundreds of locals and an earthquake did likewise within weeks of each other.
Late last year, Haitian gangs abducted nearly two dozen American missionaries, demanding million dollar ransom payments. This had occurred in the midst of the investigation of the assassination, recovery efforts from the natural disasters and infection rates from the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say the abductions and associated issues simply added to the stress and pressure on authorities to function properly.
“Heads of government stressed the importance of ensuring good governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights as set out in the Caricom charter of civil society and underlined the importance of including civil society in the process of dialogue. Heads also commended Guyana for its commitment to provide rice to Haiti in view of the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” the communique stated.