By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says CARICOM countries are disappointed that promises given by Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry at the last CARICOM summit held in Trinidad and Tobago in July have not materialised.
In addition, Gonsalves, in a statement to Parliament on Thursday, two days after CARICOM leaders met virtually to discuss the ongoing socio-economic and political situation in Haiti, renewed a call for a government of national unity to be established in the French-speaking CARICOM country.
“And it was felt by us that there was need for a greater action from the Haitian government which had agreed to certain decisions taken at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
“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.
“There is need for CARICOM to play a more proactive role at the political level in discussions in Haiti organised 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 need for the Haitian government to confirm in writing that it wishes CARICOM in relation to finding solutions to the deteriorating political and security situation which has contributed to the collapse of all functioning structures of the government.”
Gonsalves said that the view was held that it is important to acknowledge funding requirements associated with support for Haiti and the resource constraints affecting member states of CARICOM.
“Therefore, it will be important to engage with the US, UK, Canada and France and other international partners to ascertain from them what their commitments to this effort will be. There’s a lot of general talk from members of the international community; don’t know whether there’s Haiti fatigue.”
He said what is “absolutely necessary is for Haiti to establish a government that more broadly represents the majority of the Haitian stakeholders,” adding “I think that is as much as it would be prudent for me to say on that particular matter.
“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 legislators.
In his statement, Gonsalves said that the political situation in Haiti “is deeply polarised and volatile” and that the situation is also “fuelled by criticisms of the lack of legitimacy of the government and its inability to address the security and socio-economic problems.
“National and international efforts to find solutions have not been successful due to the unwillingness of the parties involved to compromise. And this is the first thing which has to be addressed. You have to have a political solution. There has to be a government of national unity,” Gonsalves said.
“That is where CARICOM is using our best efforts so that that government can prepare the way perhaps in a year and a half ‘s time to have general elections,” Gonsalves said, adding “you must remember that the Haitian government, which currently exists, has no legitimacy other than that CARICOM and countries in the world recognise that it is the government”.
He told legislators that the 15-member regional integration grouping has been engaged in finding a solution to the Haitian crisis “for some time,” appointing in the Bahamas earlier this year, an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) of three former prime ministers headed by Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia and including his counterparts Bruce Golding of Jamaica and Perry Christie of the Bahamas.
He confirmed that the group members are currently in Haiti meeting with various stakeholders.
“But I want to give a summary as to how we see the situation broadly in CARICOM, and I will add, where necessary and desirable, again, in a summary from, my own perspective where that would be an order,” Gonsalves said, noting that there are now an estimated 162, heavily armed gangs with 9,000 members, who control of as much as 80% of the capital city, Port-au-Prince.
“The gangs have been responsible for a sharp increase in kidnappings, killings and violent assaults, resulting in internal displacement. The Haitian National Police is struggling to maintain law and order and the government has called for international security assistance.
“The governments of the Bahamas, Jamaica and Kenya have expressed their willingness to contribute security personnel to a multinational mission. I should point out that a year ago, the Haitian National Police had about 14,000 members. They’re now down to about 10,000.”
Gonsalves said that however, an examination of countries the size of Haiti, “you would require … about close to 28,000 police. so, there’s a serious security problem”.
Gonsalves said the political situation is worsened further by the collapse of several institutions as well as the political impasse and the deteriorating humanitarian economic and security condition.
“The Prime Minister hasn’t come by way of election. He wasn’t properly appointed. None of these things subsequent to the assassination of President Moïse a few years ago. There is no Parliament and there are dozens of political organizations and thousands of civil society groupings and we are seeking to see if we can get a consensus so that a government of national unity can be put together.”
Gonsalves said that while “outsiders” may be able to help facilitate something in Haiti, it is still left to the Haitian people “through their leaders of political parties and institutions, civil society groupings, and of course, the government to take hold of this, make the requisite compromises so that you can have a consensual government, a government of national unity.
“In fact, part of the issue, part of the problem with the security situation and with the political, is that some of the gang leaders and members have connections in the police force and they morph into people inside of political groupings also,” Gonsalves said, describing it as a “complicated situation”.
He said that food insecurity is widespread with an estimated 50% of the population having little access to food, potable water and humanitarian relief.
“You know, you may see some statistics that there is food insecurity in some places, but by general standards of food insecurity, that’s not what we’re talking about. Here, we are talking about people, large numbers of people have little access to food or potable water and humanitarian relief. Malnutrition has tripled over the past year. With access to basic medical services posing an extreme challenge.”
Gonsalves said the security situation also created an unfavourable business environment, curtailing production and increasing unemployment. He said a number of schools have also ceased operations.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister said that in the ensuing discussion in CARICOM and at the virtual meeting, several issues were highlighted and that “every effort should be made on the part of CARICOM to demonstrate its leadership by engaging the international community, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Canada and African states with a view to restoring peace, security and political stability in that CARICOM member state.
“It is important that CARICOM has leadership,” Gonsalves told legislators, noting that in discussions with other countries, like Canada, they have their own set of challenges.
“We have been engaging the United States, which has its own set of preoccupations around the world, including in Ukraine and elsewhere. CARICOM has to be very careful not to be led by the nose by any entity by any country. Because I had to make adverse comments and I can say it here in the Parliament.”
Gonsalves said that a couple of weeks ago, the government received a diplomatic note from the US government “asking us how many police and countries which have soldiers you’d put to a force to go into Haiti or how much money you can put.
“Now, the United States of America is not a member of CARICOM, Haiti is a CARICOM member state. So sometimes these things are happening which – well, hopefully we get over that kind of a misunderstanding. If it is a misunderstanding.
“Then, in addition to the offers from Bahamas and Jamaica, Kenya has offered to send 1,000 personnel to Haiti to assist in the security efforts. Rwanda has signalled to CARICOM its willingness to respond positively to an invitation to contribute about 500 troops to support efforts on the ground. It was felt that given the language capability and experience — Rwanda and his French — that they would be in a position to assist.”
Gonsalves said that the Rwandan President Paul Kagame was in Trinidad in July, attending the CARICOM summit and that he “made, or arising from that discussion questions, who will pay for the troops? Rwanda is not a developed country.
“Two, are we going to get a Security Council resolution mapping out political basis for a government of national unity and then the United Nations say that there’s this security problem here that we need to have as a security matter in the world, we need to have some approach? But you can’t just go in there.
“You need a cover from the United Nations, the authority from the United Nations Security Council. And you need a consensual government in Haiti to say, ‘Yes, it’s fine. come.’”
Gonsalves said even then “you need that entity inside of Haiti, who will be able to give any visiting troops the requisite immunity legally in respect of any actions taken. And in any event, you’re talking about 2,000 persons”.
He said assuming that 2,000 persons are available, there will also be logistical problems given that may be only 600 troops can be deployed at any one time.
“It’s eight-hour shifts they’d have to do. But you see the size of the gangs causing the problems already and the interconnection.”
Gonsalves said he wanted to speak to Parliament on the issue “because it’s a member country of CARICOM and the Parliament has to have something beyond the headlines, so to speak, to get a sense.
“There are many things naturally, which I am privy to. I can’t speak on but I have to give a frame and an extent, to what the challenge is.
“Let me just add that St. Vincent and Grenadines has indicated that certainly the way matters are, where you have a government the legitimacy of which in Haiti is doubtful and ineffective, it would be folly for any responsible government in St. Vincent and Grenadines to say that they are any police there to help them.
“To begin with, you have persons who may well be in the police force who have links with the gangs. They speak in French patois among themselves — their local dialect. None of our police would understand what they’re saying.”
Gonsalves said that these are immense practical issues to address but this political situation inside among the Haitian people themselves and the leaderships.
“They have to sort this thing out and we are trying to help with the Eminent Persons Group. The view was expressed at our CARICOM Summit and our virtual meeting that given the extensive scale of criminal activities, including massacres, displacements of people, burning of homes, the contributions of security personnel so far were not significant enough to eliminate the gangs, which have consolidated their positions in various parts of Haiti.
“The situation required an international force drawn from several countries and which may include CARICOM countries, Jamaica and Bahamas have already indicated, but you have to have a political framework, you have to have a political solution and you have to have a United Nations Security resolution. And whatever solution you have, has to be Haitian-led, Haitian-devised with support from the international and regional community.”
Gonsalves told legislators there is a need to “recognise the complexity of the situation in which the country’s sovereignty has to be recognised”.