CARICOM ANXIOUS TO MEDIATE

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Gov't of Antigua and Barbuda

Worried that Haiti’s already fragile political and constitutional situation may collapse entirely, Caribbean Community leaders this week renewed signals to the international community that the region should be included in any mediating role in Haiti in the aftermath of last week’s frightening assassination of President Jovenel Moise given the fact that Haiti is one of its 15-member nations.

Bloc Chairman and Prime Minister of Antigua, Gaston Browne said “it is important here for CARICOM to take the lead with the support of the international community to help the Haitian people to come up with an indigenous solution,” as leaders scramble to organize a high level meeting to review the situation and to decide on how best the region could help its most populous member state.

Officials said Wednesday that a meeting of the regional prime ministerial bureau — involving heads of government from Antigua, Trinidad and Belize — is being put together to review the situation but no official regional delegation is headed to Port Au Prince anytime soon as the situation is volatile with a fractured opposition, an inactive parliament and uncertainty about who exactly is running the country of  about 11 million. The bureau comprises leaders from the country holding the chairmanship, the immediate past being Trinidad, and Belize which takes over in January.

Representatives from Haiti did not attend any of the last two virtual leaders meeting in recent weeks, a point Chairman Browne was quick to make as he reacted to the slaying of Moise in the past week.

“We (CARICOM) are seen somewhat as an impartial and neutral party and so we may have less difficulty to be accepted by civil society and other groups. We have said that we are willing to play a good offices role in Haiti but things are not settled as yet. There is no national assembly but we are willing to play the good offices role,” said Colin Granderson, the foreign affairs chief at the Guyana-based regional secretariat.

As efforts to have the bureau meet intensified this week, security officials in nearby Jamaica and The Bahamas said they were bracing for an influx of Haitian refugees in the coming weeks as periods of intense political volatility often leads to an influx of Haitian boat people to those member states.

Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands are also on high alert.

Earlier this week, The Bahamian government closed its embassy in Haiti and recalled its team of four diplomats back to Nassau, saying the situation was too volatile for the mission to function.

“I was very pleased last night to receive all four of our Bahamian diplomats from Haiti on Bahamian soil. They arrived around 8 pm last evening (Monday). They’re all in good spirits. They’re all in good health. Of course, we were working assiduously to get them home since last week Wednesday following the tragic killing of the Haitian president. We still have about five Bahamians in Haiti and some other residents that are normally in The Bahamas that we need to work on how to ameliorate their circumstances in the future, Foreign Minister Darren Henfield told reporters.

The local coastguard has also increased the number of vessels patrolling the southeastern waters to limit the number of Haitians who might risk their lives to reach The Bahamas. Of particular concern to the local cabinet is the fact that any Haitians arriving would not have been vaccinated as that country has an almost non existent COVID-19 vaccination program.

The Guardian newspaper quoted Commodore Raymond King as saying that collaboration is also being established with the US coast guard and The Bahamian police as they keep an eye out for boat people. About 25 percent of the archipelago’s population is Haitians.

“What we are basically doing is enhancing our strategic posture and positioning in the southeastern Bahamas and, in particular, along the windward passage and the waters between Great Inagua and the coast of Haiti. What we are in the process of doing, and we have already started mobilizing additional vessels, in total we would have a dedication of four surface assets in that area, as well as our aircraft, [which] will be assigned to that area to provide intelligent surveillance and reconnaissance support to our surface vessels. We really beefed up on our human intelligence aspect so we can get proactive or a preemptive idea of what’s going on in Haiti and if any mass exodus is about to occur,” he said.

Jamaica meanwhile, is also preparing for the possibility of boat people landing in southeastern Portland Parish. Security Minister Horace Chang told the Gleaner newspaper that “so far, we have not seen signs of anything coming our way, but we are maintaining our vigilance in this space.”

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