BASSETERRE, St. Kitts.
On Feb. 29 the legally elected government of Haiti was driven from power by armed force. Its president, after being taken against his will to the Central African Republic, was given refuge in Jamaica. The Bush administration’s response has been to demand that the democratic countries of the Caribbean (1) drop their call for an investigation into the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, (2) push the Aristide family out of Jamaica and the region, and (3) abandon their policy of admitting only democratically elected governments into the councils of Caricom (a multilateral organization established by the English-speaking Caribbean countries 31 years ago to promote regional cooperation).
In addition, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has warned Caricom leaders that if one U.S. soldier is killed in Haiti, Caribbean governments will be held responsible because the Aristide family was granted sanctuary in the region. In short, the Bush administration is strong-arming the Caribbean to confer on Haiti’s new “government,” headed by Gerard Latortue, a legitimacy it has not earned and does not deserve. Indeed, 33 of the 39 members of the Congressional Black Caucus stayed away from a recent Washington meeting arranged by two congressmen for Latortue.
The United States’ demand that Caricom abandon its long-held insistence on democratic principles is psychic poison to the region. When Eastern Europe was going through its totalitarian nightmare, when coups and despotic rule were “normal” in Central and South America, and when civil strife and dictatorship wracked much of Africa and Asia, the Caribbean steadfastly upheld its democratic traditions — and it continues to do so today.
This is because of the region’s well-educated populace and the caliber of its leaders; no military thugs in business suits here. From Rhodes Scholar-Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson of Jamaica in the north, to professor-lawyer Prime Minister Ralph Gonslaves in the south (St. Vincent-Grenadines), and from the physician Prime Minister Denzil Douglas in tiny St. Kitts-Nevis to the economist Prime Minister Owen Arthur in Barbados, Caribbean heads of government understand the lessons of history. They recognize the supremacy of the ballot.
And they know that only democratic values will keep the Caribbean a zone of peace. Reinhold Niebuhr warned that man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but that man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Yet the United States has unleashed its venom on Caribbean governments because they have proclaimed Caricom’s democratic principles to be inviolable.
Haiti was welcomed as a full member of Caricom because its people had established a democratic form of government. After the recent shattering of that democracy, Caribbean heads of government decided to maintain support for the people of Haiti but allow democratic elections to determine who will represent Haiti in the councils of Caricom. “We are the children of slaves,” one Caribbean national explained. “And so, we stay away from the tyranny of the unelected. . . . If America thinks that an unelected government is fine for Haiti, when will they say that an unelected government is best for my country?”
The Bush administration, however, has been implacable. Its officials were to have come to the Caribbean in April and May to discuss, among other things, terrorism, but the administration presented Caribbean governments with an ultimatum: no recognition of Latortue, no meetings between the United States and the Caribbean leaders. Caricom reminded U.S. officials that Latortue was not elected by anyone. And so the meetings are off. Why is the unelected Latortue more important to the Bush administration than the Caribbean’s 14 democratically elected governments?
Americans must speak out against their government’s behavior abroad. And they must recognize that the atrocities inflicted by U.S. soldiers on Iraqi prisoners grow out of a hubris and contempt that far too many U.S. officials display when dealing with much of the rest of the world. If stable Caribbean democracies are being slapped around by America because they uphold democratic values, who is safe in this unipolar world? Certainly not the American people, who are being made targets of global rage because of these tactics.