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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: THE CARIBBEAN AND THE GUIANAS (except Cuba)


CLIFFORD E. GRIFFIN, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, North Carolina State University
JOAN F. HIGBEE, Specialist in Caribbean Area, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress


As the post-Cold War world takes shape, the Caribbean countries continue to confront challenges of democratic consolidation while facing criticism for their failure to make concrete and definitive strides towards deeper integration. Democracy's hold in Guyana remains tenuous at best in that society, which is divided politically along racial lines (item #bi2003005296#) and in which the ruling party seems determined to arrogate all power and privileges unto itself and its supporters. Disputed elections in 2001 in which the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP) was returned to power amidst allegations of electoral irregularities led to the outbreak of civil and political unrest and an intervention by CARICOM to mediate this dispute. The resultant Herdmanston Accords, which helped to quell political unrest and which offered a number of recommendations regarding future elections (item #bi2003005457#), has failed to produce a long-term solution to this political crisis.

The years 2002 and 2003 witnessed not only a dramatic increase in the level of crime but also lawlessness and banditry, including kidnappings, armed robberies, and homicides. While some of these crimes are attributable to the enduring problem of drug trafficking and gun running, other types of crime have taken on an inter-ethnic character. The result has been an ongoing cycle of blame with Guyanese of African ancestry blaming Guyanese of East Indian descent and vice versa. In addition, allegations of complicity have been leveled against the government, whose members are largely Guyanese of East Indian descent. These sentiments run deep, with a long history of inter-ethnic political conflict dating back to the days of decolonization and independence. International involvement in the removal of the Marxist leader, Cheddi Jagan (of East Indian descent), and the installation of Forbes Burnham (of African descent) contributed to the legacy of inter-ethnic political conflict that became institutionalized during the years of Burnham's "Paramountcy" (item #bi2003005296#).

A second major setback for democracy in the region has been the unflattering record held by former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide of being the first democratically elected leader of a Caribbean country to have been removed from office undemocratically twice. During the year that Haiti was to celebrate its bicentenary as the first independent black republic in the Americas, the country found itself in a state of near anarchy as armed thugs laid siege to town after town in a systematic but determined effort to remove Aristide from power. Having concluded that it had little chance of defeating Aristide's Lavalas Family Party at the polls, a so-called democratic opposition gave tacit as well as overt support to some of the very criminals who had helped to orchestrate the coup that removed Aristide from power some 14 years earlier. With US marines, French Legionnaires, and other international forces arriving in the country, and with another US puppet president installed in Haiti, the country is poised to return to the status quo ante Aristide rather than advancing further along the path to democracy.

While CARICOM unanimously opposed Aristide's ouster and have delayed any decision to acknowledge the de facto government of Haiti, they similarly remain opposed to any attempt to "legitimize the rebel forces." However, not only has newly installed President Gérard Latortue praised the rebel forces in Gonaives for removing Aristide, he unilaterally froze relations with Jamaica for offering temporary exile to Aristide by recalling Haiti's ambassador and by "putting to sleep of relations with CARICOM." According to Latortue, Aristide's presence in Jamaica, approximately 150 miles from Haiti, serves to fan the flames of political unrest and instability in the country, so he promptly and unilaterally recalled Haiti's ambassador to CARICOM. The regional organization now finds itself under pressure from the US government to accept Latortue as Haiti's de jure president, a position inconsistent with its preference for democratic governance based on electoral competition.

To many observers, one upside for democracy in the region was the recent defeat of the government of Lester Bird of Antigua and Barbuda. Both Lester and his brother Vere lost their seats, as the Bird political dynasty suffered only its second political defeat in approximately six decades. It was Lester Bird, the only Caribbean leader to have held office consistently for more than 25 years, who, in a commentary on the state of democracy in the region, pointed out that the Caribbean has pushed the adversarial aspects of the two-party system much farther than in Britain, from where it was inherited (item #bi2003005455#).

In Antigua and Barbuda, the Bird dynasty used that two-party system as a vehicle to elevate political corruption and nepotism to a high-level art form to retain power. A Commission of Enquiry implicated Lester Bird's government in a number of illegal activities, including the activities of the Space Research Corporation, which was linked to the production of the Iraq super gun; and the transshipment of Israeli arms to the Medellín drug cartel in Colombia. The Commission recommended that Lester's brother, Vere, should never again be allowed to hold political office in that country. Notwithstanding that profound condemnation of the corrupt practices of the Bird government in the Louis Bloom-Cooper Report, not only was Vere allowed to run for political office several years later, he actually won his seat again.

Finally, the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, whose appetite for corruption seemed limitless, appear to have had enough of the Bird family. Many years of negative international press, which have associated Antigua and Barbuda with sundry transnational organized crime figures, drug trafficking, money laundering, and fraud, together with recent scandals centering on allegations of bribery, misuse of and missing funds in the national health insurance plan, and a 13-year-old girl's charges that the Prime Minister and his brother used her for sex and to procure cocaine having taken their toll, some 75–80 percent of the voters—a 15 percent increase over the 1999 poll—voted the Bird dynasty out of office on March 24, 2004, after 28 continuous years.

Anticipating defeat, Bird had workers remove boxes of so-called personal items from his office, drawing hundreds of protesters who accused him of carting away incriminating documents. Newly installed Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, whose United Progressive Party (UPP) won 12 of the 17 parliamentary seats, sought a ruling from the Attorney General about the legality of the removal of files from the prime minister's office.

Meanwhile, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, who have no bilateral territorial delimitation treaty, are locked in dispute over fishing as well as the demarcation of their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Barbados implemented a monitoring licensing regime on February 14, 2004, after two Barbadian fishermen were charged by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard with illegally fishing in Trinidad and Tobago waters. CARICOM Ministers ruled that Barbados' decision to implement monitoring licenses on imported CARICOM goods, the majority of which come from Trinidad and Tobago, was out of order. Ironically, Trinidad and Tobago firms own hotels, fast food franchises, banks, and other commercial and financial assets in Barbados. The arrest of the Bajan fishermen heated the Trinidad and Tobago/Barbados maritime disputes, which were first publicized to be about fishing rights but have now been exposed as boundary disputes concerning oil and natural gas reserves. Subsequently, Barbados has taken the matter to the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Meanwhile, the bumpy and arduous road to Caribbean integration, which fell into disrepair with the failure of the short-lived West Indies Federation of 1958–62, was revived with the establishment of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) of 1967 and later with the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas of 1972, with the goal of creating the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). This slow pace of integration, as Ian Boxhill argues in Ideology and Caribbean Integration (item #bi2004001590#), has been due in large measure to the absence of an ideology of integration. Underscoring this absence, decision making within the organization has been hampered by the unanimity rule. Difficulties in implementing a common external tariff (CET) and a demand for special treatment by some of the smaller and less developed members served to limit the attempts at deeper integration. It would take the security threat created by the re-establishment of regional integration agreements (RIAs) among some countries, and the deepening of RIAs among others, to signal to CARICOM countries that a deeper level of integration in a post-Cold War world of an increasingly uniform democratic and economic international system is imperative. Among these RIAs are the European Union (EU), the Central American Common Market (CACM), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Notwithstanding Boxhill's contention, Kenneth O. Hall (item #bi2004001591#) suggests that the integration movement has reconstituted and repositioned itself to cope with the challenges and demands of globalization by creating the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). At the same time that the issue of deeper integration is being considered, a number of latent and current disputes and conflicts exist between and among CARICOM countries. And given CARICOM's political culture, its record at conflict management and resolution has been controversial at best.

The regional organization's history reflects a tradition of aloofness from and reluctance to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. This reluctance reflected the position of member states that issues of human rights and democracy should remain within the jurisdictional domain of individual states. Member states also signed on to a 1979 OAS resolution on ideological pluralism. This resolution committed them to respect the differing approaches to political and economic development, including their power making, power maintaining, and power enhancing strategies. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the organization remained largely unresponsive to allegations of electoral irregularities in Guyana during the 1970s–80s. Among these allegations were claims that the names of deceased voters were kept on electoral lists, and worse—ballots were cast in their names. But even when the organization did intervene, informal discussions became the preferred strategy, as occurred in 1986 in Mustique between Guyana's Prime Minister Desmond Hoyte and CARICOM's delegation led by St. Vincent and the Grenadines' Prime Minister Son Mitchell and Dominica's Prime Minister Eugenia Charles.

However, as recent events, including the secession issue that continues to plague St. Kitts and Nevis, and the fishing and maritime delimitation issue between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago demonstrate, it is clear that as with large countries, small ones must protect their interests in relations with their neighbors and the world. [CEG]

Elected president of Haiti in 1990, Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed from office by a coup in 1991. He was reinstated in 1994, with the support of US troops and served the last 16 months of his term. Succeeded by his protégé, Réné Préval, Aristide returned to overt power following the strongly contested Haitian local and presidential elections of 2000. The years thereafter brought increasing dissatisfaction with his government. In Feb. 2004, as rebels advanced upon Port-au-Prince and surrounded the capital city, Aristide left Haiti. Subsequently, and as this volume goes to press, Haiti has approached national and local elections in a climate of chaos and violence. The presence of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has not filled the void left by the absence of functional government institutions. The goals of OAS Resolution 822, passed in 2002 and titled "Support for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti," continue to appear illusive. Kidnapings and murders extend the climate of insecurity into the arena of daily life. In mid-Aug. 2005, the UN News Service reported that MINUSTAH condemned an increased rate of shooting deaths and presumed lynchings in Port-au-Prince. Works published about political conditions in Haiti and reviewed here were published in the year before and the year of the passage of Resolution 822. They provide, from each writer's perspective, background about and analysis of events prefiguring the present.

Déjean Bélizaire (item #bi2003005459#) examines involvement of the parliament of Haiti in the negotiations that followed the first overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Bélizaire begins with the arrival of an OAS delegation in 1991 and continues through the appointment of Marc Bazin as prime minister of Haiti and the resignation of Joseph Nerette as provisional president. A view of the Haitian Parliament from the inside is provided by Samuel Madistin (item #bi2003005458#). Once a Haitian deputy and senator, he explores the history and potential of his country's former legislative branch while he studies a society he recognizes to be in ruins. Here Parliament is described and dissected as the backbone of the Haitian state. Involved in central administration as well as planned decentralization, it is seen as a necessary force for the development and reinforcement of Haiti's institutions. Robert Fatton (item #bi2002006935#) looks for root causes leading to formation of a predatory republic. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that equates regular elections, elite control, and market rationality with democracy, Fatton's work suggests that Haiti makes the case that, at a minimum, liberal democracy results from a balance of forces between contending classes, and that absent these classes, democracy is at best hesitant and indeed predatory. Fritz Deshommes (item #bi2003006584#) eludes to the fate of the world of ideas in a predatory state as he probes actions taken in 2002 by the government of Haiti against the independence and autonomy of Haiti's National Univ. as established under Article 208 of the Constitution of 1987. Deshommes analyzes laws and institutional prerogatives relevant to the case, while exploring, in context, the nature of an autonomous organization and an independent institution.

In 1999, well before OAS Resolution 822, Sauveur Pierre Etienne (item #bi2005001941#) examined the political crisis of 1991–94 and the problem of construction and consolidation of democracy in Haiti. His work focuses upon primary participants—individuals, institutions, and groups—in the struggle between a depleted "Ancien Régime" and a "Nouveau Régime" defined by the 1987 Constitution. He depicts the new order as having internalized the practices of its predecessors making it unable to break with past behaviors to forge a successful future. Papers from an international colloquium (Bordeaux, France, 2001) (item #bi2005004471#) examine exchanges between Europe and the Caribbean across a broad field of engagements: agriculture, architecture, maritime trade, and literature. The papers explore the dynamic within exchanges that leads to transformation as opposed to repetition. Here are dissected affinities that open postcolonial horizons as they subvert the power of received ideas. For Haiti, in chaos, there remain the insights of individual consciousness drawn from cultural reserves of personal and historic depth. The focus returns to the primary building block, the individual, as exemplified by the French surrealists and the work of Haitian writer Frankétienne, a founder of the Spiralist literary movement. [JFH]


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