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25 mars 2003

- Bahamas Information Services

Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service Fred Mitchell said at the weekend that it is « very important » for The Bahamas to continue to be engaged in the process of resolving Haiti’s humanitarian and electoral crises because if the situation in that country worsens it could mean serious consequences for The Bahamas.

Minister Mitchell spoke on his return from Haiti as a member of a Organisation of American States-CARICOM delegation. It was led by Julian Hunte, St. Lucian Foreign Minister and current chairman of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations, and Luigi Einaudi, Assistant Secretary-General of the OAS. Marco Rolle, Undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accompanied Minister Mitchell.

Minister Mitchell said there is a prediction that starvation for hundreds of thousands of people in the north of Haiti is a distinct possibility because of a drought. The Bahamas faces a serious problem of illegal migration from that part of Haiti, he said. One could, therefore understand the concern of the government of The Bahamas to try to help stabilize the situation.

In a departure statement, the delegation said it « consistently expressed serious concern over the critical security, human rights and socio-economic situation in Haiti, and underscored that the current political stalemate must be brought to an early end. » The delegation emphasized repeatedly that « it is now imperative that the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) be established, as agreed, so as to allow for credible elections to be held in 2003. »
It also said Haiti can take many steps immediately to improve public security and the observance of human rights. These steps require political will on the part of the government’s leaders, the statement said. They were in accord with OAS Resolution 822 adopted last September with the agreement of the Haitian government.

All sides must reject violence as a political tool and must demonstrate respect for democratic values and the rule of law, the statement said.

The delegation urged all concerned to take concrete steps to establish the council by March 30 in order to facilitate the holding of election before year’s end. The Haitian government, the statement said, undertook to provide all relevant information on action taken by March 30 to the OAS Special Mission for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti to enable a comprehensive report to be presented to the OAS Permanent Council by April ’02.
The delegation met with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Prime Minister and other members of Cabinet. They also had talks with civil society, the Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church and the Friends of Haiti. The conversations with the Haitian government were « extremely frank, » Minister Mitchell said. He also said the co-chairs of the delegation made it clear that « this is Haiti’s last chance. » He characterized the trip as « punishing and tiring. »
Since President Aristide’s party swept elections considered flawed in May, 2000, Haiti has faced serious problems, compounded by the freezing of $500 million in international aid.

Minister Mitchell said the electoral crisis is being exacerbated by the fact that Haiti says it does not have funding to put in place certain measures to ensure it is secure for elections to take place. The international community is trying to help the country with its humanitarian and electoral crises, but is unwilling to advance more funds until the electoral crisis is solved, he said.
« It is the view of the international community, » Minister Mitchell said, « that both the government and the opposition in Haiti have refused to advance this process. »In The Bahamas, there is, despite our political differences, a kind of common goodwill which exists at a certain level for the community and the society to move forward. Haitians must now find that common goodwill, but instead we too often found that each side was prepared to stick to its own position without moving toward that common position."

The Inter-American Development Bank has asked The Bahamas to provide assistance to Haiti in concrete and material ways. The Bahamas had not agreed to give cash, but it had agreed to provide, if certain steps move forward, assistance in other ways, such as technical co-operation, material and manpower.

The OAS had asked for 100 policemen to assist Haiti in helping it with its security arrangements for the electoral process. Referring to the Creole-speaking expertise in the Police and Defence Forces, Minister Mitchell said this may be an area in which The Bahamas can assist, but the decision will ultimately have to be made by the Cabinet after it has been properly advised.

Minister Mitchell also said the IDB has asked for a pledge to be made by five CARICOM countries to arrange for bridging financing for Haiti, which is in arrears to its international lenders. If the pledge was made, European nations might be willing to provide certain funds. Minster Mitchell added, however, that « everything is very tenuous at the moment. »

Noting that The Bahamas government is giving serious consideration to the pledge, he said, « The Bahamas government has a responsibility to look out for the good of its citizens. If a pledge of support is going to mean increased stability in Haiti, that is in the long-term interests of our country. It would be similar to investing in a base in Inagua, which we pledge to do. The stats have been done on that - something like $6 million will have to be spent, perhaps in the next budget year, to put a Defence Force/Immigration facility in Inagua to deal with this. But if we can assist in causing Haitians to want to remain home, then that investment, in my view, is a good investment. »

The Haitian government has no money and no coast guard, Minister Mitchell said. It has a population of eight million and a police force of 4,500.

The government has been running public service announcements warning people not to leave Haiti for The Bahamas because of the dangers of the journey.

He said the second part of bilateral discussions with Haiti is expected to be concluded in April. It has been agreed, he said, that it will now be possible for The Bahamas to put in place people to gather information within Haiti to see what can be done to stop illegal emigration at the source.

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