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PRESS RELEASE ON MEETING BETWEEN CARIBBEAN FOREIGN MINISTERS AND UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE, 7 FEBRUARY 2002, NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS

At the Third Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean and the Secretary of State of the United States Colin Powell, held on Thursday, 7 February 2002 in Nassau, The Bahamas, the Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, placed trade and investment issues firmly at the top of their agenda. They reminded the United States of the significant advantage it has been enjoying in its balance of trade with the Caribbean since the establishment of the Caribbean Basin Initiative in the mid 1980s.

Reminding the Secretary of State that the Caribbean is the US sixth largest export market, the Caribbean Ministers made an urgent call for ways to significantly improve the Region's trade and investment position with the US.

The events of September 11 and their ripple effects on Caribbean economies also found their place on the agenda. The impact on Caribbean tourism and travel industry and the diversion of scarce resources from developmental priorities to new security demands were of particular concern.

These difficulties, the Ministers highlighted, came on top of other positions inimical to the Region adopted by organisations such as The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in relation to the Region's financial services sector, as well as action by the United States in certain international financial institutions against access by certain Caribbean States to the resources of those institutions.

The Ministers expressed the hope that the recent testimony by the Secretary of State to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee would mark a change to a clearer more consistent and positive policy by the U.S. to the Region.

The Foreign Ministers also gave high priority to the current political situation in Haiti. Armed with the findings of a recent CARICOM Ministerial Mission to Haiti, they strongly urged the United States to support the release to Haiti of already approved funds from international financial institutions. They stressed that the prompt release of such funds was critical, if a catastrophe were to be avoided in that country.

At a press conference following the meeting, the Honourable S.R. Insanally, Foreign Minister of Guyana, and Chairman of CARICOM's Council of Ministers responsible for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), said that the Caribbean felt that the Haitian Government should be given access to funds to help build the democratic pillars which the international community was demanding that Haiti provided. “The actions taken by President Aristide are in the right direction and the release of the funds would assist. Not doing this could lead to a deteriorating situation”, Mr. Insanally said. At stake for Haiti is more than US$500 Million in aid already approved by the International Financial Institutions and for which the Haitian Government has stated it is already paying commission fees and interest although blocked from drawing down these resources.

U.S. Secretary of State Ret. General Colin Powell had stated earlier that the U.S. was unwilling to assist in releasing the funds – a position which CARICOM Secretary-General did not consider “tactically wise”. Secretary Powell stated that “We do not believe that enough has been done yet to move the political process forward to assure ourselves that additional aid will be used in the most effective way …. We believe that we have to hold President Aristide and the Haitian Government to fairly high standards of performance before we can simply allow the funds to flow into the country”, he added.

However the Caribbean Ministers had earlier pointed out that President Aristide had done his best to fulfil the eight conditions which were requested of him by the United States in December 2000. The two outstanding areas were not dependent on the Government of Haiti alone and required the compliance of the Opposition.

Among the points already implemented by the Government of Haiti are the resignations of the Senators in disputed seats of the May 2000 elections clearing the way for new elections to take place in November 2002; the creation of a new electoral council along lines acceptable to the US; the implementation of laws to counteract money laundering and drug trafficking; expanding maritime co-operation with the US and border collaboration with the Dominican Republic to interdict drug traffickers; the appointment of independent persons to direct the operations of the police and judiciary to enhance their professionalism and independence; the involvement of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in the strengthening of democratic institutions and protection of human rights and the installation of a broad-based Government including representation from the opposition parties and technocrats.

CARICOM's 28 to 31 January 2002 Mission to Haiti to access the political situation found that the Government of Haiti had shown some important progress towards implementing the various resolutions adopted by the OAS concerning Haiti as well as the various undertakings given by President Aristide to CARICOM Leaders.

The Ministers informed Secretary of State Powell, that President Aristide had also shown transparency and a spirit of compromise as manifested by his agreement to the appointment of an independent international commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the attempted coup d'etat of 17 December 2001; the commencement of investigations into the recent assassination of certain journalists; the confirmation that he would seek to appoint as Prime Minister a person acceptable to a broad cross-section of Haiti society; the openness to have persons who were not members of the Fanmi Lavalas or associated with that Party to form part of the cabinet of the new Government and the invitations extended to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct an on-site visit to Haiti and to the OAS to send representatives to Haiti to investigate and assess the situation and to assist the Government of Haiti in strengthening its democratic system and institutions.

On the basis of those points and other indications gathered during the visit, the CARICOM Mission was of the view that both major political groupings should be in a position to sign the OAS-sponsored Accord making way for a return of a permanent OAS/CARICOM Mission. CARICOM, the Ministers reaffirmed, will help Haiti in every way that it could but stressed that the U.S. assistance is urgently needed, particularly with the International Financial Institutions.

The situation in Haiti remained extremely volatile politically and was deteriorating economically and socially, the Ministers told the U.S. Secretary of State and urged the international community to assist in ensuring that the goal posts were not moved after President Aristide implemented the major elements of Resolution 860 of the OAS which was adopted in January of this year.

The Caribbean Foreign Ministers also raised the vexed issue of the deportation of criminals from the U.S. back to the countries of the Region and proposed a review of the type of crimes for which there could be deportation. They also proposed that a Fund be established out of assets forfeited from the deportees to assist in resettling them. The Secretary of State agreed that the U.S. would study these proposals. Strong arguments were also put forward with respect to the effect of the trafficking of illegal drugs and the illegal trade in small arms which were wreaking havoc in the Region. The Secretary of States indicated that the U.S. fully shared these concerns, but he however pointed to the well-known internal political and other constraints, which would deter that country from signing the hemispheric arms treaty.

The Secretary of State outlined to Caribbean Foreign Ministers the main features of the Third border Initiative – the new policy approach by the current Administration – and indicated the intention of the United States Government to assist in the provision of facilities for the development of the human capacity of the Region and in the Region=s struggle against HIV AIDS.

Both sides acknowledged the value of this their first formal exchange and expressed the importance of regular meetings between them as they seek to strengthen mutually beneficial relations between the United States and the nations of the Caribbean.

14 February 2002

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