Time to improve the CARICOM-DR relationship
In a few days’ time, Jovenel Moïse, willbecome Haiti’s forty second President. His swearing in follows his first-roundvictory in the country’s November 20 election.
A businessman from northern Haiti whohas never held political office, Haiti’s President-to-be has said that amongsthis first priorities will be the modernisation of Haiti’s agricultural sector, creatinga viable organic food industry, new social programmes, climate change and addressingcorruption. He has also suggested that his government would take long overdueaction to address the sometimes-scandalous activities of all aid groups andforeign governments with a presence in the country.
His election, hopefully, will at least bringto an end the political instability that has prevailed ever since the failureof the original October 2015 Presidential elections that he also won, but whichamid allegations of fraud and subsequent unrest were set aside.
On taking office Mr Moïse, like hispredecessors, will have to find ways to direct Haiti’s notoriously difficult tomanage and impoverished nation. He will also have to deal with Parliament,where a small group of opposition politicians are willing for a variety ofreasons to block legislation; will need to respond to the demands of those inthe private sector who supported his election; and try to address thecontinuing problems associated with weak national institutions, widespreadcorruption, social exclusion, and consequent criminality and instability.
Mr Moïse must do so against a backgroundof high levels of inflation – forecast at 15 per cent this year – slowingeconomic growth at possibly 1 per cent or less, a depreciating currency, andcontinuing public health and reconstruction issues. He will also have toaddress national security if the planned departure of the UN peacekeepingforce, MINUSTAH, takes place this year.
Beyond the long-suffering Haitian people,most at risk from his success or failure is the Dominican Republic the Governmentand business community of which hope that Mr Moïse will bring stability, rapidsocial and economic change, and consistent levels of cross-border co-operationon issues from trade and investment to security.
Of potential significance in thisrespect was a visit to Santo Domingo on January 16-17 by Mr Moïse in his capacityas President elect. There, Mr Moïse could not have been clearer: once in officehe intends to strengthen relations with the Dominican Republic, and consideradopting some of the social and economic programmes that Haiti’s much wealthierand successful neighbour has introduced.
"As President-elect I am sending a message tothe whole world and the Dominican people. Together we can improve theconditions of our countries. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are two sistercountries,” Mr Moïse told the media following a meeting with Danilo Medina, theDominican President, at the Presidential Palace. Mr Moïse also said that he hadsent clear signals to the Dominican Government and the international communitythat he intended to normalise relations.
In a further message that ought to haveresonance in the whole of CARICOM, he told journalists that his government will“in a reasonable time frame” ensure that the large number of Haitians living inthe Dominican Republic will receive the identity documentation, necessary toregularise their status.
Under an extension granted by President Medinain July 2016, some 140,000 Haitian migrants who were granted a temporarymigratory regularisation card have to obtain, for a fee, the required documentsfrom Haiti by August this year if they are to renew their Dominican status andavoid expulsion.
That said, the process remains far fromstraightforward. To date Haiti’s administration, despite having committedsignificant resources to the problem, has proved unable to deliver thedocumentation in a timely manner, and the process on both sides of the border remainsexpensive and bureaucratic.
Nonetheless, President-elect Moïse’sswearing in on February 8 offers CARICOM not just the prospect of renewing itsrelations with Haiti but, with the new Haitian President’s encouragement, theopportunity to consider the wisdom of maintaining its 2013 decision to excludethe Dominican Republic over what fundamentally is a bilateral issue betweenneighbours.
In a signal that such a change ispossible, the Prime Minster of Antigua, Gaston Browne, and the President of theDominican Republic, recently agreed in the margins of the recent summit of the Communityof Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Punta Cana, that the DominicanRepublic would establish an embassy in St Johns to strengthen bilateralrelations.
The decision not only aims to promote tradeand investment, and coordination in fora such as CELAC and CARIFORUM, butenvisages Antigua becoming a platform for Dominican trade into the OECS andCARICOM markets. To develop the relationship, it is expected that the DominicanRepublic’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Vargas, will visit Antigua.
As this column has noted before, thereis a strong case for CARICOM establishing a strategic pan-Caribbean approachthat fully embraces the Dominican Republic and Cuba, both of which have inrecent months been discussing with Puerto Rico a much deeper Hispanic-Caribbeantrade relationship.
As Antigua is proving, it does not take rocketscience to overcome the misunderstandings and the mutual incomprehension thatexists in some CARICOM and Dominican Republic circles about the other.
There is already a base of contacts tobuild on. Some companies, notably in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Jamaicaand the Eastern Caribbean are doing business with one another or have invested;the rum, sugar and tourism industries have fully embraced Dominicanparticipation; and with cross investment there is then possibility ofdeveloping two centre vacations that cross the linguistic divide.
The Dominican Republic is the largestand fastest growing economy in the Caribbean, with the capacity to supporteconomic synergies and growth across the region. At a time of change anduncertainty, failure to find ways to heal the rift between the Dominican Republicand CARICOM would be an historic mistake, emphasising the smallness andvulnerability of the much of the region.
David Jessop is a consultant to theCaribbean Council and can be contacted at
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