STRAIGH UP TALK
THURSDAY, MARCH 11TH, 2004
THE BAHAMAS GOVERNMENT’S HAITI POLICY A MISERABLE FAILURE
If success is measured by achieving one’s objective, then clearly the government’s Haiti policy was a failure. The government, led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Fred Mitchell, sought to address the problem in Haiti by supporting the presidency of Mr. Jean Bertran Aristide, securing international aid and ending the political impasse between President Aristide and Haitian opposition forces.
All of these were laudable objectives; however, none was achieved. In the end, Haiti’s instability worsened, President Aristide fled Haiti for the Central African Republic, no international aid was forthcoming and Haitian opposition forces rejected all efforts to bring them together with President Aristide. The Bahamas Government was not alone in this failure; it shared it with CARICOM.
It is clear that the international community, particularly the USA, Canada and France “dissed” The Bahamas and CARICOM in the Haiti situation. Not only were they “dissed” they were also deceived. Prime Minister Christie and his CARICOM colleagues were led to believe that the US, Canada and France supported their agenda in Haiti when in fact those countries had an agenda of their own. CARICOM’s Haiti policy called for Aristide to remain president and be provided with international aid, the policy of the three developed countries was to remove Aristide. In the end, Caricom had its say but the superpowers had their way.
Why did the government’s, and by extension CARICOM’s, Haiti policy fail? There were several reasons, which include the following:
* Their diagnosis of the real problem in Haiti was at best unclear and at worst non-existent;
* They failed to realize that an entrenched mistrust between Haitian political factions was the principal reason for the instability in Haiti and that President Aristide was a major cause of that mistrust;
* They ignored years of signals from the international community that it was not prepared to further support the Aristide regime and in fact considered it untrustworthy;
* They assumed an arrogant posture in the international community that failed to give proper consideration to the interests and wishes of those who could most effectively assist Haiti, that is the USA, Canada and France;
* They overestimated their own power and importance in the Haitian dilemma, failing to realize that they had nothing to offer any of the parties in the Haitian conflict that would persuade them to act differently than they had been acting for decades;
* There was no genuine strategic plan to deal with the Haitian problem and certainly not one with any contingencies to account for the failure that was realized; and
* They ignored the sentiments of the peoples of their territories in dealing with the Haitian crisis, most particularly the people of Haiti.
Understandably, Prime Minister Christie, Minister Mitchell and CARICOM leaders are disappointed and even embarrassed. They should be. What was done to them by the Americans, Canadians and French was unflattering to say the least. What must they do now? One thing they should do is to take the advice of former Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Hawk, who gave a speech at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Nassau in the 1985. His essential message to his colleague heads of government was, “know the limits of your power”.
The fact is that Haiti is still in turmoil and Aristide is out of the country. CARCOM can neither bring peace to Haiti nor restore Aristide to power. Recognizing Mr. Aristide as president of Haiti will not stabilize Haiti or return him to power. The reality is that the same countries that “dissed” CARICOM are the same countries needed to assist Haiti, that is, the USA, Canada and France. Additionally, CARICOM countries, most particularly The Bahamas, continue to have needs that can only be met if they have wholesome relationships with these developed nations, especially the USA. If CARICOM reacts to spite these countries it will further prolong Haiti’s unfortunate situation and jeopardize the economic, social and political prospects of its member states.
CARICOM leaders are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand they want to assert their independence in the community of states and on the other they must regard their dependence on those who are obviously more equal than they are. What should they do? Going back to the drawing board would be good start.
Long before CARICOM entered the picture The Hon. Fred Mitchell seemed to be leading a charge to address the Haitian crisis. His efforts were laudable indeed, even if somewhat misguided. In fact, the determination with which Mr. Mitchell pursued this matter left many wondering whether addressing the Haitian situation was his personal policy or that of the government.
Foreign policy is the exclusive domain of the head of government or state of a country, in our case the Prime Minister. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is Prime Minister’s chief emissary or diplomat. He does not make foreign policy; he carries it out. It was never clear whether Minister Mitchell was making foreign policy on Haiti or carrying out the wishes of Prime Minister Christie. As he departed for his many Haitian missions he was seen entering airlines waving goodbye like a Prime Minister off to do his chief executive duties. On his return from those missions he was seen disembarking airplanes like the chief of state returning to his domestic duties. He would give briefings at the VIP lounge as if he was acting on his own behalf. Even when the Prime Minister was involved, it appeared as if he were accompanying the Minister as opposed to the other way around.
One should not begrudge the media savvy, ambitious Minister of Foreign Affairs, especially if his Prime Minister has no issue with what he does. However, protocol is a facility established to maintain order in a state. One must question the protocol of the Minister Mitchell’s approach to his office in the Haiti matter. A Minister of Foreign Affairs receives his charge from the Prime Minister and on executing that charge owes the Prime Minister the courtesy of being briefed first on his return from any mission given him by the Prime Minister. The people should be informed of what the minister has done but not before the people’s principal leader, the Prime Minister. One thing is certain, the only things allowed in a government are the things the chief allows.
Many curious things happened over the last several weeks in the Haiti dilemma. The most curious of all to me was the absence form the CARICOM effort of Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados. Prime Minister P. J. Patterson is CARICOM’s present chairman but Prime Minister Arthur is perhaps CARICOM’s most widely respected leader in the international community. His seniority and intellectual prowess has made him a voice much listened to among world leaders.
Why was Prime Minister Arthur so noticeably absent from CARICOM’s efforts? Why was he not apart of the charge to support President Aristide? Mine is only speculation but I suspect that Prime Minister Arthur, ever prudent, had long determined that Mr. Aristide was not salvageable and that those that sought to save him would end up with egg on their faces. So said, so done.
Only fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.