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Saturday 24 August 2019
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Haiti: Caricom’s new challenge

DEVELOPMENTS in Venezuela have overshadowed the rapidly deteriorating situation in Haiti. But just as it has with the situation in Caracas, Caricom needs to urgently intervene to facilitate a dialogue with a view to the peaceful implementation of the will of the Haitian people.

Those people have, in no uncertain terms, demonstrated their desire for new governance in the wake of the PetroCaribe corruption scandal and the underperformance of the two-year-old administration of President Jovenel Moise. Marching continued yesterday in Port-au-Prince even after government officials pledged to deepen an investigation into the corruption and to implement a suite of economic measures.

Since February 7, thousands have called for Moise’s resignation and for an independent inquiry into the whereabouts of funds from the PetroCaribe agreement. An audit triggered by the Haitian senate alleges corruption, and some reports suggest US$2 billion was siphoned from the Caricom-facilitated programme which is meant to divert revenues gained from the selling of subsidised Venezuelan oil into development.

The result? Tyres have been burnt in the streets. Cars torched. Barricades set up. At least seven people have died in the protests, according to unconfirmed reports. Last week, the US State Department issued a level 4 advisory, warning of “crime and civil unrest” and “widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti.”

Organization of American States secretary general Luis Almagro has called on all parties to “fully participate in the dialogue process, to respect the democratic process and to resort to peaceful ways to solve conflicts.” It is a call that Caricom, too, has echoed.

However, Caricom is in a position to go further and to actually facilitate a mediation which could bring the bloodshed to an end. After all, Haiti is a member of Caricom and Caricom states – with the exception of TT and Barbados – have a direct stake in the PetroCaribe scandal that has fuelled the noise over Moise in the first place.

Saturday night’s televised address by Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant, in which the government pledged to reduce spending by about one-third, and to appoint a new director to intensify the PetroCaribe probe, has clearly not doused the flames. In fact, the latter measure may have deepened suspicion.

While much of the issues in the audit predate Moise, much of it relates to the conduct of Laurent Lamothe, prime minister under former president Michel Martelly, who handpicked Moise as a successor. And though the processes of law should be respected, yesterday’s arrest of five US nationals charged with “conspiracy” looked to be an attempt by powerful actors to set up an easy scapegoat. Yet, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has learned, pointing fingers at foreign powers can only distract from local failings for so long.

Caricom should act.

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