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HomeNewsCaribbean NewsHaiti at a crossroads: UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum assess

Haiti at a crossroads: UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum assess

The UWI

KINGSTON, Jamaica –The Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean (DAOC) at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) recently held a virtual panel discussion on the multidimensional crisis in Haiti as part of the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Forum series. The forum was streamed live on the UWItv platform and featured high-profile subject matter experts. This was the first in a series of activities planned for this month to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the DAOC, which was established on May 6, 2014.

In his opening remarks, Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, underscored that Haiti has been weighed down by a fraught relationship with the West since its advent as an independent state. He called attention to the pernicious legacies of colonialism, contending that they have cast a long shadow over Haiti.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles also highlighted that the forum is timely, focusing on the topical matter of the latest chapter in Haiti’s political transition, whose implications are far-reaching. This is in a context where the Caribbean community and elements of the international community are integrally involved in supporting associated processes.

Against the backdrop of this conceptual framing, the distinguished panel of international relations experts and scholars of Haitian Studies shared perspectives on the crisis in Haiti.

It comprised Dr Renata Segura, program director, Latin America and Caribbean, International Crisis Group; ambassador Frederick D. Barton, Lecturer, School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University (the first US Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations); H.E. Stefano Gatto, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary / head of delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Haiti; Dr Jemima Pierre, Professor of Global Race – Institute of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia; and Dr Jacqueline Laguardia-Martinez, Senior Lecturer, The UWI Institute of International Relations. Dr Regine O. Jackson, Dean of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Media & Arts Division and Professor of Sociology at Morehouse College, served as the panel’s discussant.

Dr Nand C. Bardouille, manager of The DAOC, served as chair of the proceedings and moderator of the panel discussion. In his remarks, Dr Bardouille contextualised the fragility of Haiti’s transition to democracy. He noted that such political developments as the transitional government taking power on April 25, 2024, and the selection of Fritz Bélizaire, just days later, as the country’s prime minister, demonstrate relative progress in Haitian political change. Dr Bardouille underscored, “The transition to democracy in the country has hit several stumbling blocks, and acute challenges to political authority have arisen – not least because criminal gangs have opportunistically and cynically moved to fill the breach.”

Each of the panellists reflected on the main takeaway from their respective presentations, as follows:

Dr Segura, stated: “After almost three years of violence and chaos, a small window of opportunity is opening in Haiti with the formation of a transitional government that could reestablish some of the state’s functional capacities and coordinate the arrival of the multinational support mission led by Kenya. Although it got off to a rocky start, in the face of pervasive and entrenched gang-related violence, the transitional council and its mission are the best hope for Haiti at this time.”

Ambassador Barton, stated: “Action is required right now to save thousands of Haitian lives and to give the people a chance to start anew. Current plans are helpful but insufficient. Haiti’s transitional council must call for emergency, short-term help from 300-500 US Special Forces to open freedom of movement, establish humanitarian corridors, and give the Haitian National Police and the Kenyan-led international force 3-5 months to establish public safety – job #1. This should be done with a commitment to a new decentralised community security model led by neighbourhood groups. The years of intimidation and exploitation must end.”

Ambassador Gatto, stated: “The European Union (EU) stands committed to Haiti, supporting a political Haitian-led solution allowing a return to institutional order to face the dramatic economic and humanitarian situation and insecurity efficiently. The EU maintains its development co-operation effort and is increasing its humanitarian support.”

Professor Pierre, stated: “The ‘crisis’ in Haiti is the result of the Western imperial assault on the country that has been ongoing for more than two decades since the US, France, and Canada backed a coup d’état against the country’s democratically elected president, and subsequently used the ‘peacekeeping’ apparatus of the United Nations to occupy the country. Because it is Western foreigners who have the power to shape the discourse around Haiti, it has been difficult to address the reality of the long history of Western imperial meddling in Haiti. As Haiti faces another invasion – this time nominally led by Kenya and CARICOM countries – I would like to ask the Caribbean community to think about the vast arsenal at the US empire’s disposal to convince the rest of the world to go along with another strike at Haitian sovereignty gladly. Another military invasion to extend the US occupation of Haiti will only increase the death, misery, environmental degradation, and affront to our human dignity of all the previous invasions.”

Dr Jacqueline Laguardia-Martinez, stated: “The reconstruction of Haitian institutions on solid ground has to include Haitian civil society as a key actor. Civil society must be afforded the requisite tools to hold government and state institutions to account. In this way, an effective means to address endemic corruption in Haitian politics can be advanced for the benefit of ordinary Haitians. The political transition currently underway ought not to disregard the multiple ramifications of the crisis and the long-term problems that have resulted in the acute situation of violence, instability and impoverishment of Haitians. Besides making the streets secure again and conforming to a government stemming from the popular will, actions to stabilise the economy, provide basic services, revive agriculture, and guarantee access to basic services are as essential and urgent as restoring peace and governability.”

Professor Jackson, stated: “The Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on the current crisis in Haiti showed quite clearly that complex situations like this require multidimensional solutions. All of the panellists made important contributions from the perspective of different stakeholders that show the importance of humility from the international community, a plan to get the weapons out of Haiti and immediate attention to the suffering and trauma of the Haitian people. Efforts must include the restoration of the humanity of Haitians at home and abroad. Since all agreed that there were foundational economic issues underlying Haiti’s current wave of violence, why not prioritise debt relief?”

Dr Bardouille said the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum helped advance the Community-wide and international community’s debate on this incredibly challenging moment for Haiti, noting that “the new government is a step in the right direction, but Haiti is not out of the woods yet; not by a long shot.”

He concluded: “The core question, though, remains the same as it always has regarding Haiti: Can those charged with such awesome responsibility as regards steering the future course of the world’s first Black Republic rise above the (political) fray, such that the country’s peoples can have a real chance to turn the tide in their quest for human and national development? Absent an answer – to suit the times – to this question, the political upside of this moment will be fleeting.”

The recording of the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on The Multidimensional Crisis in Haiti: Recent Diplomatic Developments and the Way Forward can be viewed at UWItv Global.

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