Resolving the Haitian crisis: CARICOM, partners working towards ‘lasting’ solution


By Vishani Ragobeer 

Haiti, the Caribbean Community’s most populous nation, has been grappling with concurrent humanitarian, economic and political crises but leaders across the region hope they can help bring about a lasting solution for the nation.

CARICOM leaders are in Georgetown this week as Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali, the Chairman of the 15-member bloc, hosts a biannual regular meeting.

According to President Ali, the leaders remain optimistic that “long lasting, sustainable solutions” can be achieved.

“This requires all stakeholders in Haiti, especially, to give a bit to compromise a bit and to express a collective willingness to achieve the outcomes that we are setting [for] ourselves,” Dr. Ali said as he opened CARICOM’s business meetings on Monday at the Marriott Hotel in Kingston, Georgetown.

Guyana’s President, who is the current CARICOM Chairman, Dr. Irfaan Ali (right) engaging Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry (Photo: Office of the President/ February 26, 2024)

The day prior, at the opening ceremony for the meetings this week, he said “tough decisions” are needed to help the nation.

The challenges of the already fragile country boiled over in 2021, when its President Jovenel Moise was assassinated. Gang violence has engulfed the country and the United Nations (UN) estimates that conflict in the country killed about 5,000 people last year.

But what does helping Haiti look like?

First, there is the question of security.

CARICOM countries Jamaica, The Bahamas and Belize have agreed to back a UN-force, led by Kenya to help the Haitian Police Force fight gang violence in Haiti. Further afield, international players like Canada and the United States pledged their support for the intervention too.

In Georgetown to meet with the CARICOM leaders, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas- Greenfield stressed the need for security in the country.

“….The Haitian people need security, they need an opportunity to do the normal things [like] everyday people (like) go to school, go to church,” Thomas- Greenfield said at a press conference in Georgetown.

President Dr Irfaan Ali and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Then, there is focus on political stability.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been managing the country since 2021. He promised to step down and the country would get a new, elected leader with free and fair elections.

Earlier this month, however, Henry said elections would take place when the security situation improves.

CARICOM leaders are, however, pressing for fresh elections. The leaders met with Prime Minister Henry on Sunday.

United Kingdom (UK) Minister for the Americas, Caribbean and Overseas Territories David Rutley, who was part of talks with CARICOM leaders on Monday, said the leaders in Georgetown agreed that “a parallel political process” is necessary as security efforts unfold.

“We (the UK) clearly want to see a pathway to free and fair elections, that’s the collective voice in CARICOM as well.

“I think the leaders in Haiti will be under no doubt about that. There is a responsibility and accountability with them now to help find the political will to drive that forward,” Mr. Rutley told the News Room in an interview at the sidelines of the CARICOM meeting.

UK Minister for the Americas, Caribbean and Overseas Territories, David Rutley (Photo: News Room/ February 26, 2024)

The U.S. Ambassador also told reporters that there were meetings with PM Henry, encouraging him to engage opposition groups on a pathway to the long-awaited elections.

Finally, CARICOM leaders are also hoping to engender long-term development and prosperity in Haiti.

The country has been saddled with debt and beset by poverty for years. Haiti, before its independence, was known as Saint-Domingue, a French colony deemed as the jewel of the West Indies. Saint-Domingue was a profitable colony, producing sugar, coffee, rum and cotton.

The enslaved Africans on the island revolted in the famous ‘Haitian Revolution’ leading to the creation of Haiti, an Independent state in the Caribbean.  But Independence came at a cost for the nation of formerly enslaved Africans.

Haitians were saddled with debt – paid as reparations – to France, the country that Haiti freed itself from. Paying this debt took more than a century, taking much of the money that could have been spent to develop the island to Europe. Then, there was more debt, unhelpful interventions and natural disasters that crippled the country.

Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo at a plenary session of the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of CARICOM in Georgetown (Photo: Office of the President/ February 26, 2024)

Guyana’s Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo said planting trees – or rather, replanting trees- could help the country generate wealth and protect itself from natural disasters.

“We spoke of this today at the Heads of Government meeting about how we can resurrect this concept and raise dedicated funds for replanting the entire forest of Haiti.

“This can provide jobs for people, nursery, planting, taking care, and at the same time allow the country to be less vulnerable to natural disasters like mudslides and also provide a future source of income from harvesting some of these trees,” Jagdeo said at the sidelines of the CARICOM talks on Monday.

How exactly CARICOM hopes to support Haiti now, amid mounting calls for fresh elections and ending the gang violence, will be known on Wednesday at the end of the Georgetown talks.

President Ali, on Monday, urged the region’s citizens, including Haitians, to trust the “collective leadership” and “wisdom” of CARICOM.

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