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Emergency Haiti summit tomorrow
Caricom leaders say Aristide's overthrow dangerous precedent
Monday, March 01, 2004
Caricom leaders, angry that the international community snubbed their plan to settle the crisis in Haiti, are heading to Kingston for an emergency summit tomorrow to fashion a response to the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Last night, Prime Minister P J Patterson, the community's current chairman, said that the ousting of Aristide set a "dangerous precedent" for the removal of democratically-elected governments, and the 15-member group appeared on a collision course with the United States at the United Nations over the sanctioning of a peace-keeping force for Haiti.
Aristide ostensibly resigned yesterday and headed into exile after intense pressure
from the US, Canada and France that he step down in the face of an armed rebellion and weeks of unrest in the country.
But regional leaders questioned whether Aristide's resignation was "truly voluntary", coming as it did after the capture of half of the country by insurgents "and the failure of the international community to provide the requisite support, despite the appeals of Caricom".
"The removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically-elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces," Patterson said.
Aristide had agreed to a Caricom initiative in which he would remain in office for the remaining two years of his presidential term, but would share power with the formal Opposition while the country prepares for new elections.
The United States, Canada and France initially supported the Caricom (Caribbean Community) plan but backed away fro
m it and put pressure on Aristide to resign - essentially adopting the position of the Opposition.
"At no point in time was the Caricom Action Plan predicated on the unconstitutional removal of President Aristide from office," Patterson said.
".Any suggestion, therefore, that Caricom was a party to a plan or was in consultation or had subscribed to the removal of President Aristide from office as a prior condition would be incomplete contradiction to the long held Caricom position that the removal of the constitutionally elected president by unconstitutional means could not be supported by the Caricom community," Patterson said.
The obvious effort by Patterson to draw a clear distinction between Caricom's own position and the stance of the Western troika was apparently fuelled by the obvious inferences at the UN that Caricom is fully behind an initiative to get Security Council endorsement for a US-led peace-keeping force for Haiti.
The US ambassador at the UN, John Negroponte, ha
d counted Caricom among a group - including the United States, France, Canada, Brazil and Chile - that had drafted a resolution for adoption by the Security Council.
"The Friends of Haiti have worked on a draft that would authorise a multinational interim force and we're hoping, if possible, to pass the resolution this evening," Negroponte told reporters.
The United States last night had Marines on stand-by for the mission and Negroponte said that they could go in ahead of passage of the resolution, given that "the president of Haiti has already asked for external intervention and for assistance".
However, Caricom has questioned the constitutional legitimacy of the stand-in president, Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, who was sworn-in after Aristide's departure.
In last night's statement, Patterson said that the Haitian constitution would require Alexandre's "affirmation by a two-thirds majority of Parliament".
"The non-existence of a Parliament in Haiti would bring into questio
n the constitutionality of the arrangement as reported," the Jamaican leader said. "It further underlines why the Caricom Action Plan sought to promote a framework which would permit the election of a Parliament that would be free and fair, so soon as the requisite conditions were in place."