- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday heralded the start of a new order in Haiti without former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and shrugged off Jamaica’s and Venezuela’s decision to welcome the ousted leader back to the region.

“Let’s not overstate the case,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

“The fact is [Jamaica] offered a temporary visit by former President Aristide to meet family members, so that’s what they’re doing. That need not and should not — and we don’t expect will — come at the expense of peace and progress in Haiti.”

Neither Jamaica, which welcomed Mr. Aristide Monday, nor Venezuela has recognized the newly installed government in Haiti led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday said he still saw Mr. Aristide as the legitimate president of Haiti, and offered him refuge.

“Venezuela’s doors are open to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” Mr. Chavez said in a speech in eastern Venezuela.

Venezuela Embassy spokesman Andres Izarra said in Washington that Caracas had not received any request from Mr. Aristide to visit Venezuela.

Jamaica’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) would take up the issue of Mr. Latortue’s government in a meeting to be held in St. Kitts later this month.

“Jamaica has not recognized the interim government of Haiti as this will be the subject of deliberations by the Caricom heads of government,” the ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Ereli said Caricom had stated it was committed to the goal of restoring democracy in Haiti as well as the social and economic development of the Haitian people.

“That includes Jamaica,” he said.

Caricom members were currently hashing out a number of different possibilities regarding their relationships with Mr. Latortue’s government, Mr. Izarra said. “We’re going to act together with Caricom on that matter.”

Mr. Ereli said Caricom members had pledged their readiness to work with Mr. Latortue and the future government of Haiti, “so we have every expectation that will happen.”

Despite regional lack of enthusiasm for Haiti’s new government amid persistent questions surrounding the circumstances of Mr. Aristide’s hasty departure from Haiti on Feb. 29, Mr. Ereli said Haiti was forging ahead.

“We’re looking at what’s going on in Haiti, and we’re seeing a sea change from the way things were three weeks ago,” he said.

“We see relative domestic peace and tranquility. We see consensual politics returning to Haiti. We see a new government about to be put in place. We see the path towards constitutionalism and elections clear.”

Mr. Aristide returned to the Caribbean just two weeks after he left Haiti for exile in the Central African Republic in the face of an armed revolt and U.S. pressure to quit.

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