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Regime change: Caricom and the New Haitian Model

by Dr Clive Thomas
Sunday, March 14th 2004 Source:

Last week I suggested that Haiti was brought into the Caricom fold in 2002 as a necessary act, born out of a deep sense of Caribbean solidarity and oneness. It was also encouraged by the pride of place that country holds in our historical struggles against the de- humanising European slave system, many of whose legacies remain among the most important impediments to the transformation of the region. Similar sentiments were also behind the entry of Suriname into Caricom, and indeed the special arrangements Caricom has entered into with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela.

This broadening of Caricom has profoundly altered its economic configuration. As I have pointed out, compared to Caricom, Haiti's population size, structure of trade, and levels of poverty create special problems, not least of which are those caused by the resulting extreme variation of living standards. With Caricom being as small at it is, there is no capacity to effectively resolve these on its own. This lack of capacity feeds the strong reliance on external assistance, which Haiti feels compelled to have as it strives to overcome its immediate crisis.

Haiti, however, does not only create economic disproportions in Caricom. Its international significance and existing political problems dwarf those of the remainder of the region, and again reveals the latter's lack of capacity to resolve them. Consequently, it seems even more certain that external factors will continue to lead the way for some time to come as Haiti pursues the resolution of its economic problems and its efforts to stay firmly on a democratic and constitutional path.

Last week's article ended with the observation that the legitimate elements of Haiti's opposition, in rejecting a political solution of shared governance and insisting on regime change as their first and foremost objective, might have committed a political blunder of enormous consequences, not only for Haiti but all of the region. My main reason for advancing this view is that the so-called 'rebels' leading the violent overthrow of the Aristide presidency comprise in substantial measure past coup plotters, members of right-wing death squads, thugs, narco-dealers, and the ubiquitous former CIA assets. Control of governmental power in the region by such a group constitutes its deadliest long-run threat to democracy and constitutionality, not Aristide with all his weaknesses and failings.

Opportunism And Regime Change

The opportunism displayed by the big powers (France and the USA) will almost certainly come back to haunt them. In manoeuvering Aristide's ouster as a condition for their intervention to hold the peace, they have legitimized violence against the state by the rogue elements identified above, as a method of regime change. This satisfies the aims of the big powers now because "Aristide is not liked by them." But history has a way of using precedents differently from their original inspiration. Left-wing adventurers are no doubt aware of this and are observing.

This opportunism presented as a variation of the doctrine of 'regime change initiated from the outside' has three connections of immense significance to our region. One is that it seems to me unwise to try to isolate it from the broader and deeper currents driving globalisation and change in the wider world, which is the focus of this series. Just as my foray into the criminalized state might have been inspired by local occurrences in Guyana, I could not in the end present a credible analysis, or offer an understanding, and appreciation of that phenomenon without locating it in this broader and deeper context. In the present case also, the new variant on externally inspired regime change, although applied to Haiti, does have a wider resonance, which we ignore at our own peril.

The second connection relates to that other phenomenon, known as the doctrine of 'preemptive war,' which precipitated the Iraqi war. This doctrine is also a product of the broader and deeper currents of globalisation and the wider world. I stress this observation, since in reportage on these matters there is a tendency to present these occurrences as typical of old fashioned imperialism or to recall 'similar' Cold War episodes.

The third connection is to Venezuela. Just as 'preemptive war' in Iraq immediately brought certain governments/regimes under the gun, such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea, so too we find that the new innovation on the doctrine of regime change is linked to the future prospects of the Chavez government. Having observed that the follow-up question that arises is where next. Within Caricom there are potential prospects, if its past record and current situation are to be relied on for guidance.

Political Morality Or Self-Preservation

The discussion so far raises the issue of the strong public resistance expressed by Caricom governments against the emerging doctrine of regime change. Reacting to the crisis they had proposed a political solution that would have kept Aristide in a shared government, with foreign troops holding the peace. They had also indicated unequivocally that they would not recognize any opposition that came to power through the violent overthrow of the elected President. This stance attempted, no doubt, to blend high-sounding political morality with self-preservation constructs, as it sought to preempt the possibilities of an Aristide-type ouster among other Caricom countries.

In this regard they were no doubt made extremely uncomfortable, when the US government indicated that it would not support governments, even if freely elected, if they misgoverned, ignored the rights of the population they were elected to serve, and consequently came under the gun of a disappointed and frustrated electorate.

One other notable feature of this sad affair which stands out is that in all the events so far the big powers and the international community have paid scant regard to the Caricom proposals. Indeed the global significance of Haiti played itself out on a stage where the region is at best, little more than a 'bit player.' Thus we find that even the courtesies of consultation with other sovereign members of the grouping to which Haiti belonged, was not offered to them. And, for that matter as time goes by much to the chagrin of the Caribbean public, indications of the deliberate deception of regional governments are surfacing.


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