On the Future of Democracy and Development in Haiti
March 17-18, Washington, D.C.
March 17-18, 2005, one year after the tragic events of February 2004, more than sixty (60) individuals gathered in Washington, D.C. for an important discussion on the future of democracy and development in Haiti. Policy experts, scholars, civil rights/human rights organizations and representatives of political parties, movements and constituencies across the political spectrum in Haiti attended.
From the perspective of the Haiti Support Project (HSP), the goals of the Symposium were very basic:
1. To engage key African American organizations and leaders in the process of building a constituency for Haiti in the U.S. on the assumption that African Americans and Haitian Americans working together can become effective partners and stakeholders in respectfully assisting our brothers and sisters in Haiti to create a viable democracy and sustainable economy.
2. Create a relatively neutral environment/space where serious and substantive discussion and exchange of views could occur that could contribute to growing momentum for a process of justice and reconciliation. A critical objective of the discussion was to attempt to identify conditions which if agreed to by all parties could prepare the groundwork for a program of national unity leading up to the elections, whenever they occur.
3. Make a modest contribution in support of ongoing efforts of CARICOM, the African Union, United Nations, Organization of American States and other international bodies, governments and non-governmental organizations to promote justice, peace, reconciliation and national unity as part of the process of restoring democratic rule in Haiti.
Based on the feedback we are receiving, HSP believes the Symposium achieved these minimal goals and was a success. First, in our efforts to engage the African American community to build a constituency to advocate for Haiti, the following organizations participated and are committed to continuing to work with HSP: The Progressive National Baptist Convention, National Urban League, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, National Black Leadership Forum (an umbrella organization which includes most of the major civil rights organizations in the U.S.), Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, National Association of Black Social Workers, National Black Police Association, National Medical Association and National Congress of Black Women and representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representatives of the NAACP and Black Congress on Health, Law and Economics expressed regrets at not being able to attend, but sent assurances of their support for the Symposium.
Second, given the extreme polarization which exists in this country and Haiti, the willingness of a broad cross-section of leaders to agree to attend the Symposium was in and of itself a modest accomplishment. People sat in the room together, engaged in frank discussion and exchange of views on a range of issues in formal sessions and informal conversations over the two day period. And, general consensus was achieved on two broad issues.
At the end of the two-days, the majority agreed that the Symposium was positive in that it facilitated discussion and engagement across political lines. A few participants expressed disappointment that more was not accomplished.
Areas of Agreement
After extensive discussion and debate, there was general agreement on two issues:
1. Respect for human rights should be a non-partisan issue. All parties, institutions, agencies and governments of Haiti should respect human rights as a fundamental principle to ensure justice in Haitian society. It was agreed the current situation of arrests and imprisonment of individuals without charges, extrajudicial executions and the politically motivated rape of women constitute an impediment to creating a process for a dialogue on justice, reconciliation and a program of national unity.
2. It was agreed that disarmament of all political gangs, criminal gangs, former military groups and para-military organizations is imperative to dramatically curtail violence in order to create and maintain an atmosphere of security in Haiti. The cessation of violence is a pre-condition for the creation of a wholesome environment in which social, economic and political progress can occur. All sides should pledge to use non-violence to pursue their goals and resolve disputes and encourage their constituents to respect this pledge.
Congressman Gregory Meeks of the Congressional Black Caucus delivered a passionate plea for disarmament and non-violence in his remarks during the Opening Session of the Symposium. His speech is attached to this Summation.
The issue of a “national dialogue” was referenced by several speakers during the deliberations. Various ideas about the form and objectives of such a dialogue were mentioned. However, there was no specific agreement on a national dialogue by the participants. It appeared that there was a sense that significant movement on the human rights and disarmament issues were priorities which must be addressed in order for an inclusive national dialogue to begin.
There was agreement among the participants that the Symposium was sufficiently constructive and productive that HSP should continue to host additional discussions in an effort to promote justice, reconciliation and a program of national unity. Accordingly, HSP proposes to take the following steps:
1. An HSP team will visit Haiti in the next 30 days for a round of consultations with those who participated in the Symposium to receive suggestions regarding what other organizations, institutions or sectors should be included in the process. The goal is to include a select/limited number of key actors, who may have been omitted from the initial Symposium so that the process will be as representative as possible. In addition, HSP will consult with the Interim Government, U.S. Embassy officials, representatives of the U.N. Mission and other appropriate bodies during the visit. Finally, HSP will explore whether any incremental progress can be made on the priority issues identified at the Symposium – human rights abuses and disarmament.
2. HSP proposes to convene a second Symposium at a location in the U.S. in May of this year, followed by a third Symposium in Haiti in June to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the founding of Haiti Support Project.
It is our hope that the forthcoming visit and follow-up Symposia and concrete actions which may be taken on the priority issues in this period will be helpful in stimulating progress on the question of a process for justice and reconciliation and a dialogue on a program of national unity.
1. There have been a few requests that we share the email addresses of the participants so that those who choose to can contact each other and continue the discussion between Symposia. We believe this is an excellent idea but because we did not receive the approval of the group to circulate email addresses, we will wait until we get permission at the second Symposium before sharing this information. We hope everyone understands the need to be cautious about doing certain things without the approval of the group.
2. It is also important to indicate that HSP has very limited resources and therefore is not in a position to underwrite or pay the costs of prospective participants to attend the Symposia. Apparently there was an expectation on the part of some invites that HSP could pay for their travel and lodging. If this process is valuable, participants should find ways and means of raising the resources required to attend. As we did this time, HSP will cover the costs for the venue/space, materials for the registration packets, some modest meal service and provide staff. We will, however, attempt to raise some funds for a limited number of prospective participants who absolutely cannot afford to attend without some assistance. We do not want a lack of resources to be an impediment to participation.
3. Clarification: Membership in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is limited to Black persons elected to Congress in the United States. HSP has excellent relationships with many
members of the Caucus, but we are not members of the (CBC). We are not the Black Caucus.
HSP is in continuous discussions with various members of the CBC as we seek to deepen our collective understanding and analysis of the situation in Haiti with a view to finding remedies to specific problems. We have a particular interest in ending the grave mistreatment of Haitian immigrants and refugees.
The Haiti Support Project would like to thank everyone for contributing to the Symposium and making an earnest effort to make the meeting successful. We must continue to build momentum moving forward. We believe the ancestors will bless us for putting the interests of the people of Haiti above our personal self interest. Let us collectively commit to working together to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution!
Ron Daniels, Founder
Haiti Support Project