By Jean H Charles
Petionville is that bucolic city built in the mountains of the outskirts of Port au Prince by Alexander Petion, the pioneer of the concept of the Grand Caribe. Petion, the third president of the new republic of Haiti, provided arms, munitions and soldiers to Simon Bolivar so he could continue his fight of liberating the nations of Latin America from servitude and colonial domination. It is as such fitting that Petionville has its name enshrined in the long process of the nations of the Caribbean and Latin America that try to integrate their economy so the people of the region would enjoy full employment, shared cultural values as well as peace and democracy.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
The Sunday before the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit, I was there at the Karibe hotel, the venue of the conference. Port au Prince and its environs are struck by frequent heavy rain at night from the month of April to the month of September. On the lobby of the hotel, the elements were gushing with force; the staff of the hotel had to move the furniture a little bit. And there, in a corner, was Dr Denis Watson, calm and poised like a general in control of the ship, putting the finishing touches to the programming of the conference. Dr Watson, as the coordinator of the summit, is familiar with the inner workings of the Association of Caribbean States. He retired as an economist with the Association, to return home to Haiti to facilitate the implementation of true democracy in that island nation.
Haiti was enrobed in its best dress to welcome the presidents, prime ministers and heads of government of some 25 countries that share the Caribbean Sea. Haiti’s President Michel Joseph Martelly, his Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, as well as his Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Richard Casimir, have gone all the way to put their entire staff as hosts and hostesses so the whims and the needs of all the guests would be satisfied. The young chief of protocol, Mr Youri Emmanuel, and his staff were efficient and effective in tending to the details of registration and certification of the delegates.
Haiti, albeit a pendant of the Caribbean chain, was a prodigal daughter with few rights and few privileges amongst her brother nations; on the other side, Haiti and the Haitians were living as if the nations of the Caribbean did not exist. This sentiment of mutual disrespect, due maybe to the difference of language and past governmental policy, has been slowly disappearing. In less than six months, Haiti was the host of the two most important gatherings of the Caribbean region -- the CARICOM summit in February 2013 and the ACS summit in April. Haiti is now the prodigious daughter long shunned but actively courted today, because of the forceful and dynamic diplomacy of its President, Michel Joseph Martelly and its Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.
The fifth summit of the ACS from April 23 to April 26, 2013, in its Declaration of Petionville encompassed some forty resolutions that include the integration and the unification of the politics of the sister nations, the promotion of commerce and tourism, the reduction of damages due to catastrophic disasters, as well as fast and effective transportation between the members in the region. In fact, the interest to the Grand Caribe goes beyond the confines of the Western Hemisphere; Kosovo that just signed a peace treaty or agreement with its rival Serbia is seeking an observer status to the ACS.
Using the language of the general secretary of the Association, Dr Alfonso David Munera Cavadia from Columbia, the Grand Caribe can be compared to a tree or a forest with several trees with different roots but all breeding life and energy that sustains the whole. In that sense, the organization was pleased to admit for the first time Guadeloupe and Martinique, two French territories in the Caribbean. Dr Munera painted the story of the association that started in Cartagena, Columbia, on July 24, 1994, with the mission of ensuring the strategic position of the Caribbean Sea, deepening the commercial and the cultural links that glue the nations with shores on the Caribbean waters.
It is rather strange that there was more communication between the islands and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean before the birth of ACS some twenty years ago. Without going way back to Bolivar and Petion, I should mention as testimonies to regional cooperation, the workers that built the Panama Canal, who came from Jamaica, Haiti and many other islands. The ferry boat that used to leave from Columbia and stopped at different islands is now a legend of the past.
To revive the commercial spirit that was common in the region, the document stressed the importance of wealth creation through commercial exchange, ease of capital circulation and scaling best practice models into each one of the nation of the area. ACS wishes a better collaboration and synergy with CARICOM, as it was discussed in the context of the XV meeting of 2012. Last but not least, the Declaration called for a concerted effort to fight terrorism in all its aspects, while respecting individual liberty and the free movement of people.
The Association recognized the merits of Haiti and its president in facilitating the deliberations leading to the Petionville Declaration. Haiti’s contribution was spelled out by President Martelly in his opening speech of the heads of state gathering. He would like to see a rapid unit of deployment in case of sudden disaster in the region, the sequence of the summits must be more frequent, at least every two years -- the last one was held nine years ago in Panama City.
Haiti is also proposing a stronger promotion of cultural diversity through recurrent festivals. They will gather the citizens of all the sister nations in one country as will happen in August with CARIFESTA in Suriname from August 16 to August 26, 2013. Last but not least, President Martelly is pushing for the expansion of science and technology through the pollination of research centers from the best universities of the region and beyond.
At lunch time on the last day of the summit I had a long conversation with Mr Colin Granderson, the assistant general secretary of CARICOM, about the necessity of both institutions, CARICOM and ACS, to launch a culture of personal wealth creation in the region. By doing so, the ACS summit will truly revive the memory of the past giants such as Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe, Bolivar, Eric Williams of Trinidad, Fernando Ortiz of Cuba to create the spirit of abundance, collaboration, collegiality and conviviality that should be the guidepost for the nations and the people that form the Grand Caribe.
Some six years ago I wrote an essay “A roadmap for a coordinated and integrated approach towards the Caribbean
”. If only the policy makers of ACS could revisit the premise behind the conceptual framework of that article!
Click here for photos of the ACS summit
. Photo credits: Franck Rimpel II