March 21, 2006

US looks to close ‘breach’ over Haiti

By Patricia Wilson

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) - The United States and the
Caribbean community needed to "close the breach" over Haiti and
work to get more international help for the hemisphere's
poorest country, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting with
CARICOM foreign ministers, hoped to encourage the 14-nation
regional bloc to re-engage with Haiti after two years of
fractious relations.

Ties between the group and Washington also suffered because
of bitterness over the circumstances surrounding the ouster of
former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled into
exile in February 2004 faced with an armed revolt and U.S. and
French pressure to quit.

CARICOM leaders considered his removal a dangerous
precedent for democratically elected governments in the region
and asked for a U.N. investigation.

They suspended Haiti but have agreed to reinstate the
country after its new government is installed and
President-elect Rene Preval is inaugurated, probably in early

"It's important for the international community, it's
important for Haiti and it's important for us to close the
breach over CARICOM and Haiti," said Thomas Shannon, assistant
secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

Rice would talk to CARICOM ministers about their role in
Haiti going forward "and how it can work with the international
community to address Haiti's development needs," Shannon told
reporters traveling with Rice to the Bahamas.

"If our engagement on Haiti is episodic it won't be
successful, especially at this point," Shannon said.

U.S. aid to Haiti over the past three years will reach $500
million by the end of 2006.

Shannon acknowledged that ties with CARICOM became somewhat
"ragged" after the United States sent troops to Haiti in 2004.

He said it was in Washington's interest "to find a basis on
which to get our relations back on a level where it can have
the positive impact it's capable of having."

Rice's scheduled 19-hour visit to Nassau is the first
high-level, substantive session the United States has had with
all the CARICOM ministers since 2001.

Apart from a visit to Haiti last year to urge Haitians to
stick with a firm date for elections, this is also Rice's first
trip to the Caribbean.

Shannon said other topics for discussion were democracy and
human rights, trade, competitiveness and regional security,
including drugs and small arms trafficking, money laundering
and illegal migration.