The Wall Street Journal / November 18, 1998
By Larry Luxner
Caricom leaders say that the organization has been effective in preventing crises in the region. For example, when the tiny island of Nevis (population 10,000) threatened to secede from St. Kitts-Nevis, the Caribbean Community stepped in to lobby against the idea -- warning of dire economic consequences if the pro-independence referendum passed.
In impoverished Haiti, Caricom is working to solve a bitter dispute between President Rene Preval and rival politicians that has paralyzed the fragile Haitian economy.
And in Guyana, where Caricom is headquartered, the 15-member organization has appointed a special mediator to iron out lingering differences between President Janet Jagan's Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and former president Desmond Hoyte's People's National Congress (PNC) following last year's contested presidential elections.
"Caricom has matured to the point of being able to contribute significantly to the resolution of internal political crises," said Secretary General Edwin Carrington. "Guyana is one example."
Mrs. Jagan, who was chosen to lead Guyana following the death of her husband, President Cheddi Jagan, said Caricom "has been very useful" in trying to bring the two warring parties together.
"There's a new phenomenon developing where losing parties refuse to accept the results of the elections, even when they've been certified over and over again," she said in an interview in Georgetown. "In our case, we invited Caricom, and Caricom worked out an arrangement whereby the elections were audited. Guyana ended up in the rather unusual position of being one of the only countries in the world where it had its total votes counted a second time. We had a number of well-known Caribbean personalities who came here and spent eight weeks, and counted every single vote."
After that failed to resolve the standoff, Caricom sent the former attorney general of Barbados, Maurice King, to Guyana to broker an agreement between Mrs. Jagan and Mr. Hoyte. In the last two months, Mr. King has been meeting with both the PPP and the PNC in a bid to prevent a repeat of the violence that broke out last December, but the PNC is unhappy with the slow pace at which the talks are proceeding.
"We have made virtually no progress with the dialogue," said Mr. Hoyte, who was president of Guyana from 1985 to 1991. "Nothing concrete has come out of it, and our own view is that the PPP has not entered the process in good faith."
In Haiti, the situation isn't much better. Even before Hurricane Georges ravaged the crowded nation of 8 million people in late September, Haiti's economy had been stumbling badly. In June 1997, Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned following a dispute between political parties over senatorial elections two months earlier. A runoff vote from that election still hasn't been held, leaving Haiti without a prime minister all this time.
Haitian and foreign officials in Port-au-Prince say they hope the devastation left by the hurricane -- which killed 200 people, destroyed 60% of Haiti's agriculture and left more than 180,000 people homeless -- would finally bring together feuding politicians and force them to focus on the country's problems.
"Haiti was accepted as a member of Caricom last year, but hasn't yet completed the terms and conditions of entry," said Mr. Carrington. "Full membership would provide Caricom a greater scope to work with Haiti on all fronts. Since that is so critical, we're eager for Haiti to become a full member."