Regional foreign ministers push for action on Haiti

CHAIR of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, says the body will use the platform of the upcoming 11th meeting of the United Kingdom-Caribbean Forum to keep Haiti — which is caught in the throes of political upheaval and violence — on the international agenda.

Speaking during the opening ceremony for the 26th meeting of COFCOR at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in St Andrew on Tuesday morning, Johnson Smith said that forum, which will take place on Thursday and will be the first in-person meeting for that confab in seven years, provides an important opening to collectively engage the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly as well as representatives of the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

“At the community level, focus will rightly be placed on the ongoing political security and humanitarian crisis facing our sister nation Haiti. Following the Caricom mission to Haiti in February, led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the community has remained engaged in the search for sustainable Haitian-led solutions and is committed to keeping Haiti on the international agenda at the highest levels,” Johnson Smith told the gathering.

On Monday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in discussions with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, reaffirmed the region’s commitment to actively supporting Haiti.

According to a United Nations estimate, 5.2 million people, almost half of the Haitian population, are in need of humanitarian aid. The instability in the Caribbean country is happening simultaneously with a cholera epidemic which broke out last October, and according to the Pan American Health Organization, ballooned to more than 38,000 suspected cases up to mid-April. Last Thursday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that gang violence in Haiti has left more than 115,000 children facing the possibility of dying by starvation this year. Rival gangs have taken control of most of the capital Port-au-Prince since the assassination in July 2021 of President Jovenel Moise.

On Tuesday, Johnson Smith said the region “must acknowledge that the global pace of delivery of support to Haiti does not match the urgency of the situation”.

Furthermore, she said the Caribbean Community (Caricom) “must assure our colleague and sister country that we are agreed, as Caricom, that we will not allow Haiti to be forgotten in its time of greatest need”.

She said the deliberations will contemplate the “next steps as the Community continues to fulfil its good offices role and explore options for technical and security assistance”.

“In order to accomplish this, we must effectively utilise existing mechanisms and candidly acknowledge when new frameworks or approaches are required,” Johnson Smith stated.

Also on Tuesday, COFCOR’s outgoing chair and Minister of Foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda Chet Greene said “the grim situation in Haiti has presented a challenge to not only that member state but for our entire region”.

“I am, however, of the firm belief that we must work together to devise solutions and address the situation. Ultimately, the decision and direction that Haiti will forge depends primarily upon the citizens. Therefore, there must be national consensus within Haiti whilst those of us in the wider region are called upon to demonstrate patience and corresponding or parallel support to allow for the self-determination of the Haitian people,” Green noted.

In the meantime, he said the region should also continue to advocate for the “swift resolution” of the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict before it escalates any further warning that “our very lives depend upon it”.

Jamaica assumed chairmanship of COFCOR in May of this year and will remain in the seat for a year.

As part of the responsibilities of the chairmanship, the 26th COFCOR meeting is being hosted (May 16 to 17) and will be followed by the 11th meeting of the United Kingdom-Caribbean Forum on May 18 and the Inaugural Jamaica/UK Strategic Dialogue on May 19.

COFCOR determines relations between Caricom and international organisations and third states and promotes the development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations among member states. The council consists of ministers responsible for the foreign affairs of members states (specifically the 14 independent countries in Caricom).