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Caricom in plea for Haiti

By Canute James, Financial Times, 11 July 2001 18:04GMT

Haiti's neighbours have asked donors and creditors to release hundreds of millions of dollars that have been promised to the impoverished Caribbean state, saying this will encourage further breakthroughs in resolving the political crisis that has crippled the country this year.

The request by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) follows agreement between Haiti's government and the main opposition groups on restructuring the body responsible for elections.

The administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has also agreed to re-run disputed legislative elections held 14 months ago, which the local opposition, foreign governments and regional organisations concurred were manipulated to benefit Mr Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party.

The Haitian administration has now complied with undertakings to the Clinton administration, and reaffirmed to the Bush administration, and has qualified for receiving the promised economic and financial aid, said Hubert Ingraham, prime minister of the Bahamas and chairman of Caricom, a 15-nation group that is creating a common market. Haiti is a provisional member.

Caribbean officials say that about $1bn in credits, grants and technical assistance has been promised to Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, by governments and international financial institutions, but that disbursement has been tied to political reform in the country of 7.5m people.

Mr Aristide had earlier promised Caricom and the Organisation of American States that the country's electoral system would be restructured. However, efforts last month to find a solution were frustrated by the failure of Fanmi Lavalas and Convergence Democratique, a 15-party coalition of opposition parties, to discuss their differences.

Initial consultations with Fanmi Lavalas, Convergence Democratique and civil society in late June and last week were transformed into direct negotiations that have resulted in an agreement on elements of a solution, said Kenny Anthony, prime minister of St Lucia and the Caricom leader responsible for Haitian affairs.

The government will now guarantee the funding, independence and security of an electoral council, which will have representatives from Convergence Democratique and Fanmi Lavalas as well as religious, political and business groups.

Haiti's government is doing all that has been asked of it, an aide to Mr Aristide said on Wednesday. The opposition had first refused to discuss our proposals, but came under heavy pressure from abroad, the official claimed. Now they are talking. However, in doing all of this to regularise the situation, we have nothing to show for this. This financial embargo is being unfairly continued.

In calling for the release of funds to Haiti, Caricom leaders said poor Haitians were suffering most as the country's economy deteriorated. Unemployment in Haiti is estimated at 60 per cent.

Mr Aristide's critics claim he is making the political changes because he needs the funds. But Caricom officials contend that the changes made by the government indicate that the pressure was working.