AT a time when Haiti's recently elected president, Michel Martelly, has revived controversy over an old issue—restoration of its national army—a former Trinidad and Tobago diplomat has been sharing his views on this proposed development and other matters of relevance to the Haitian people and Caricom in general.
With a distinguished career in the foreign service of T&T, as well as serving as head of this country's public service for a number of years, Reginald Dumas had as his forum for reflection and ideas on Haiti the 23rd Annual Conference of the Haitian Studies Association on November 11 at UWI in Mona, Jamaica.
He was invited to give the association's keynote address for which he chose as his subject: "Haiti at the Intersection of the Caribbean—Tapping the Past, Facing the Future.".
Though quite knowledgeable about Haiti and its people, Dumas, a former ambassador to Ethiopia, USA, Japan and the Organisation of American States, who in addition served as High Commissioner to India, Canada, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, made clear to his audience that he did not consider himself "an expert on Haiti".
He signalled his own "unease" with Martelly's priorities for Haiti especially his plan to re-establish the Haitian army, even while accepting that the army had been "unconstitutionally disbanded" by Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1994.
At the same time, Dumas pointed to Haitians' growing opposition to the usefulness, in its present mode of operations as a security force, of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti that is increasingly viewed as a costly "foreign yoke".
As special adviser on Haiti to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Dumas had stressed the crucial difference between "peace-building'' as distinct from "peace-keeping" in Haiti. This difference is well articulated in Dumas' book, An Encounter with Haiti—Notes of a Special Adviser.
In a focus on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which was established for national reconstruction of Haiti following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, Dumas noted that towards the end of March last year, nearly US$10 billion in assistance was pledged by the international community to support the (then) government's "vision and action plan" and done in a manner that "strengthens the authority of the State".
However, the promise of Haiti being "built back better", has proven to be most disappointing. Quoting former Jamaica prime minister, PJ Patterson, Caricom's representative on the IHRC, Dumas said that the projects approved by the IHRC "have not been reflecting the critical priorities of the Haitian government…". There has been great unhappiness with "procedure", but for Dumas "alarm over content is far more worrying".
Dumas rhetorically raised some critical questions:
"But which Caribbean do we have in mind? Haiti's immediate neighbour (Dominican Republic), with which relations have always been uneven, and which may not resist the temptation to use the recent Haitian dual citizenship provision in creative ways?
"The Bahamas and Jamaica, whose ambivalences are no secret? Cuba, whose public health assistance to Haiti over the years has been, and continues to be, invaluable? Venezuela, whose President, Hugo Chavez, has repeatedly acknowledged the inspiration and help his country's founder, Simon Bolivar, received from Haiti?...
"Some small islands which seem themselves as more comfortable in the embrace of the metropolis than in productive discourse with their fellow islands? Guyana and Suriname, both called Caribbean, but neither of whose shores is washed by a single wave of the Caribbean Sea?
"The Anglophone West Indian-origin communities in Panama and coastal Central America? The North American and European diaspora?" he asked.
Conceding that the Haitian revolution had a major impact on the Anglophone Caribbean, Dumas nevertheless argued that "there has not been any sustained Haitian influence in the region…the colonial powers, still 'colonial' and still 'powers—and our own sloth have seen to that".
In the reasoning of Dumas, "we (in the Caribbean Community) seem to have persuaded ourselves that a flag and an anthem and what Sir Shridath Ramphal describes as 'local control'—that is the 'maximum leader' domestic syndrome—are all that is needed''.
"Independence," he stressed with unmistakable disappointment, "is no longer a matter of mind and the spirit; it is now a matter of visible and superficial externalities and a marked decline in self-confidence and in regional effort and identity…" His address is a good and timely read.