Caribbean presidents and prime ministers are assembling in The Bahamas for their mid-year summit but there is no escaping the fact that crisis-ridden Haiti will be the main agenda item of the three-day meeting beginning in the capital on Wednesday, officials said.
The host nation, which last year turned away 5,000 Haitian refugees and hundreds of desperate Cubans trying to land in various Bahamian islands, has vowed to push the 15-nation bloc into a full discussion on the situation in Haiti where hundreds of people have been killed by heavily armed gangs, dozens of others kidnapped and missing and where police officers in some towns are staying home because more than 100 of their colleagues have been murdered in recent weeks.
In this regard, The Bahamas will have the support of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who is attending as a special guest as well as Brian Nichols, who is the American Undersecretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs. He will be supported by former Secretary of State and special presidential representative John Kerry and a large American delegation as the various sides plot and conspire to find a solution to a worsening Haitian crisis.
Haiti is the most populous and poorest CARICOM member as well as the last to join the grouping back in 2002. The meeting is being held days after a Bahamian court ruled that local authorities can proceed with plans to demolish several Haitian so-called shanty towns in trendy, tourism destinations such as Abaco. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fred Mitchell said this will be a crucial meeting. “You know that Haiti has been descending into chaos as a result of the collapse of their political system. The countries around the world and in this hemisphere have been trying to see what we can do to help”.
“The United States has been front and center of this and that is part of the reason why they are bringing such a large delegation. The Bahamas, being 90 miles to the north of Haiti and being the transit passage for Haitians on their way to the United States, the US has been trying to find ways to solve the political situation in Haiti and improve the security in that country,” he said.
For their part, the Canadians who recently sent a high tech aircraft to disrupt electronic activities of gangs, is also pressing CARICOM to act with greater urgency even as the bloc has persistently complained that it does not have the resources to do so.
“The Canadians have agreed to take the lead in trying to resolve some of these problems and so that is why Justin Trudeau is coming here for discussions with our prime minister. Jamaica and The Bahamas have agreed to provide manpower if the United Nations decides that there is a force to go into Haiti again. The question is how will those modalities be handled. We obviously do not have the manpower to undertake such an exercise. We want to contribute to it and we want to contribute to a solution,” Mitchell said.
Most Caribbean leaders have signaled plans to attend including the premier of The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). The TCI is the other regional destination favored by Haitian and Cuban boat people, fleeing conflict and economic degradation back home.
The Bahamas last month withdrew its diplomatic staff from Haiti, saying the situation had become unsafe. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and what is left of his collapsed cabinet have appealed to CARICOM for help. In turn, CARICOM says it is trying to get rival stakeholders to a neutral CARICOM country for talks and mediation but the bloc has given no update since.