A week after Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders caucused on the current situation in Haiti, a boatload of dehydrated and exhausted Haitians landed over the weekend in Jamaica, with the new arrivals pleading for help and asking authorities not to return them to their homeland because there is little hope for a better life there.
The 36 Haitians indicated that they had spent about two weeks in the open seas, baked by the blazing sun. They survived in a rickety boat as they struggled to make it to neighboring Jamaica in much the same way another group of 37 beached on the island in early July.
The Haitians were apparently aiming to make it to the Florida coast, but were pushed by strong ocean currents to Jamaica where, on Saturday, authorities mobilized to send them back.
Their arrival came just over a week after regional heads of government met virtually about the situation in Haiti, entertaining an update from a group involving three former Caricom prime ministers who have met with a wide cross-section of Haitian stakeholders in both Jamaica and Haiti in the past two months.
Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and a leading advocate for greater regional action on the 15-nation bloc’s poorest and most populous member state, wants the integration movement to continue pressing interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry to help establish a government of national unity to ease the level of strife in Haiti.
“It was felt by us that there was a need for greater action from the Haitian government[,] which had agreed to certain decisions taken at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago [in July]. Caricom is disappointed that the prime minister of Haiti has not taken action towards broadening the governing coalition and has not taken other agreed actions,” said Gonsalves after the virtual leaders’ meeting. His Surinamese counterpart, President Chan Santokhi, has even stepped up calls for a multinational force to help with the perilous security situation on the ground.
Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other regional member nations have already agreed to contribute military and paramilitary personnel to any such force going to help restore order and support local forces.
“There is a need for Caricom to play a more proactive role at the political level in discussions with Haiti organized by the various interest groups. In this regard, Caricom has to be very much involved in the drafting of the resolution on Haiti to be tabled at the United Nations Security Council. Our input is critical in that regard. On the issue of the lead role to be played by Caricom, there is [a] need for the Haitian government to confirm in writing that it wishes Caricom to find solutions to the deteriorating political and security situation [that] has contributed to the collapse of all functioning structures of the government,” Gonsalves said.
Caricom is particularly worried about Haiti because there appears to be no let up in the level of violence on the ground there. Latest official reports indicate that nearly 2,000 people have been killed between Easter and July, including dozens by snipers hiding out in hills and abandoned buildings.
In the past year, nearly 150 police officers in several towns have been killed or seriously injured, even as locals have stepped up efforts to kill gang members causing the mayhem.
“There may be persons who may be saying, ‘Why is it that the prime minister has taken the time to deal with this?’ If a problem like this existed in St. Lucia or in Trinidad, God forbid, or anywhere else in Caricom, we might have had a greater sense of immediacy. But the fact remains Haiti is a member of the Caribbean Community. We cannot stand askance,” Gonsalves told lawmakers.