25/09/2022

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Coups, crisis and Haiti. This Caribbean diplomat is retiring

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In this file photo, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Assistant Secretary-General Colin Granderson arrives at the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday, July 13, 2004. A delegation of five Caribbean foreign ministers arrived to meet Haiti’s interim leaders, hoping to restore relations after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

AP

Colin Granderson was sorting through decades’ worth of documents and confidential memos this past weekend, and couldn’t resist checking in on the one subject that has occupied a good portion of his 45-year diplomatic career: Haiti.

Putting his cellphone on speaker mode in his Georgetown, Guyana, office, the Trinidadian diplomat, in between the shredding and packing, opened a video link and tuned into a political debate taking place more than 1,300 miles away in Port-au-Prince. Rivals vying for the post of prime minister and president of a transitional Haitian government were engaging in a virtual debate of their visions, and Granderson, who speaks French and Haitian Creole, was quietly monitoring.

If Granderson, one of the Caribbean region’s most recognizable diplomats with his distinct Trinidadian accented deep voice, thought he would go unnoticed Saturday, he couldn’t have been more wrong. He was among a short list of names singled out as having “attended” the event by organizers of the so-called Montana Accord advocating a two-year political transition for Haiti, in lieu of elections, run by an unprecedented five-member presidential college.

“I was hoping the Haitian efforts over the past few months would come up with a Haitian solution to the political impasse,” said Granderson, 79, who had been holding out hope for a broad consensus among Haitians as a way out of the country’s turmoil.

A key figure in many backroom discussions on Haiti over the years, Granderson has finally called it quits. On Monday, he wrapped up a decades-long diplomatic career that included posts in Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign service, the U.N. mission in Africa and the Organization of American States in Haiti, before becoming the principal foreign policy adviser for the 15-member Caribbean Community regional bloc known as CARICOM.

“I’ve enjoyed myself tremendously. I’ve spent a great portion of my working life as a diplomat outside of the region. I enjoyed coming back to the region and getting a chance to renew my knowledge of the region and making a lot of friends,” said Granderson, who before the COVID-19 pandemic hit unwound by playing Mas — the crowd-pleasing ritual of parading down the road to music while colorfully clad as a member of a masquerade band — during Trinidad and Tobago’s annual pre-Lenten Carnival celebration.

“I’m going to miss the camaraderie, the work, the hard work; we put in a lot of long hours,” he added. “There is a sense that what you’re doing serves a useful purpose. … But it’s time for new blood, new ideas, new energies. The time had come.”

‘Quintessential diplomat’ and Haiti expert

Considered one of the Caribbean’s foremost Haiti experts, Granderson is known for his calm and quiet demeanor during turbulent diplomatic times: when the community has butted heads with the U.S. over Haiti and Cuba policies, navigated dissent within its temperamental ranks over the escalating crisis in Venezuela and faced criticism that it hasn’t moved quickly enough to foster regional integration.

“Yes, we get a lot of flak when a particular high-profile issue crops up and we don’t all take the same position,” Granderson said of the region’s prime ministers and presidents. “But behind the scenes, our coordination takes place on a daily basis. For example in New York, at the various meetings of the [U.N.] General Assembly, very often when CARICOM speaks, it speaks with one voice.”

Anthony Bryan, a former professor of Granderson’s at the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies, calls him the “quintessential diplomat.”

“That level-headedness, willingness to look at both sides of the issues was very much his strong point and earned him a lot of respectability throughout the region,” said Bryan, who lives in South Florida and directed the Caribbean Studies Program at the North-South Center of the University of Miami.

Granderson’s final day as assistant secretary-general of CARICOM at the secretariat’s Georgetown, Guyana, headquarters Monday came just four months shy of 20 years in the role. As the third-in-command, he helped guide the regional integration process that included the creation of a European Union-like economic bloc where goods, services, workers and capital move freely without restrictions; as the diplomat in charge of foreign and community relations, he helped coordinate member states’ position on issues while serving as their guidepost on Haiti.

Though he exited CARICOM in much the same way he joined it — with Haiti in crisis — all has not been in vain, Granderson insists.

There have been successes in both Haiti and the Caribbean region, he said, despite the difficulties. They include tensions between member states over immigration and the movement of skilled nationals; divisions over what to do about foreign policy issues like the crises in Haiti and Venezuela; and disagreements over trade and the admission of new members.

“A lot of work has been done,” Granderson said of CARICOM, which consists of mostly English-speaking Caribbean countries that were once part of the former British empire. “One of the unsung dimensions of the integration process has been the work that has been done in the area of functional cooperation; the areas of working together in regard to health, education and disaster management; putting in place standards.”

All of the member states, including Haiti, which became a full member in 2002, have benefited, he noted, from that “collective” effort. This includes making CARICOM’s Single Market and Economy a reality, which Granderson said “is moving forward slowly, but it’s moving forward.”

New leadership at CARICOM

One of Granderson’s final duties was preparing regional heads of government for a high-level ministerial summit between CARICOM and Colombia, their second, in the Colombian city of Barranquilla last Friday.

His Jan. 31 retirement was publicly announced in December when CARICOM released the names of its new leadership lineup following the appointment of new Secretary-General Carla N. Barnett. An economist, Barnett, a native of Belize, is the first woman to head the group, and replaced Irwin LaRocque of Dominica who stepped down in August after 10 years at the helm.

As part of her new leadership team, Barnett announced that Ambassador Donna Forde, a Barbados diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Cuba and worked in her eastern Caribbean nation’s U.S. and U.N. missions, would replace Granderson on Tuesday.

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CARICOM Secretariat’s Assistant Secretary-General, Ambassador Colin Granderson, meets with Caribbean foreign ministers in May 2020 to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. After 45 years as a diplomat, Granderson, 79, retired Jan. 31, 2022, from his post at the 15-member Caribbean Community bloc. CARICOM

“It is never easy to replace someone with the experience, skill and diplomatic [abilities] of a Colin Granderson,” said Leonard Robertson, longtime communications advisor to CARICOM who, as its spokesman, worked closely with Granderson to craft its message.

Granderson’s service to the Caribbean has been “exemplary,” Robertson said.

“He has represented the region with finesse, class and distinction for the almost 20 years that he has been assistant secretary-general,” he added. “He will be sorely missed, but his legacy includes the knowledge that he has imparted unselfishly to his colleagues at the secretariat and throughout the region. He has earned his retirement, but I am sure that his knowledge and experience will not be lost to CARICOM.”

Granderson made his mark on relations with Haiti, where he earned his share of detractors, as the country skated from one internal crisis to another and he found himself either leading a fact-finding mission, working on elections or trying to mediate the latest crisis.

Before joining CARICOM, he spent eight years observing human rights in Haiti, first in 1992 on behalf of the OAS, and then from 1993 to 2000 as the executive director of the OAS/United Nations International Civilian Mission in Haiti.

Granderson counts strengthened human rights observations in the country among his personal Haitian successes.

Haitian human rights associations that trained under his leadership as head of the joint mission, he said, “continue to work, continue to report on what is taking place. Some of them are doing extremely good work.”

But he has also had disappointments. This includes a Haitian judiciary that is as unstable as the country, and an inability of Haitians, thus far, to seize on a historical opportunity to find a political consensus among themselves on how to run the country after last July’s assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Haiti crisis calling

Granderson’s diplomatic career began in 1977 as a member of Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign service. But it was his work with CARICOM that widened his recognition in diplomatic circles as he led its expanded relations with African nations and other countries.

Edwin Carrington, the secretary-general of CARICOM, was looking for a capable diplomat to work with the Caribbean Community as it sought to erase trade restrictions with the creation of the single market and economy, and strengthen economic and political relations with the United States, Latin America and its Caribbean neighbors.

While Haiti was part of that focus, rising tensions in the French-speaking nation were demanding more attention. The conflict was rooted in the May 2000 legislative elections, which had been widely dismissed as flawed, and led to an opposition boycott of the presidential election six months later in which Jean-Bertrand Aristide was reelected president amid extremely low voter turnout.

Granderson, who at the time considered himself knowledgeable about Haiti but no expert, accepted the challenge in May 2002 to join the regional bloc. Twenty months into the job, after the OAS had failed to mediate the Haitian crisis despite 25 missions to the country, Granderson was dispatched to Port-au-Prince on a fact-finding mission. It was January 2004, and Caribbean leaders, at the nudging of the U.S., had finally decided to become more deeply involved in helping solve the political crisis.

But CARICOM’s efforts ended with Aristide’s Feb. 29, 2004, forced departure amid a bloody coup. As U.S. Marines arrived to restore order as part of an interim international force, the U.S. used a power-sharing plan mediated by CARICOM to forge a new transitional Haitian government. But Caribbean leaders’ reaction to what they viewed as Aristide’s ouster by the George W. Bush administration strained relations with Washington and Haiti’s new interim leaders.

“Fevered ideology overcame common sense,” said Reginald Dumas, a Trinidad and Tobago diplomat who days before Aristide’s departure was appointed as a special adviser on Haiti by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Citing Granderson’s temperament, Dumas said, “could help considerably in bringing about an ordered approach” to the current political crisis and it would “be a blessing” if CARICOM leaders would tap Granderson as a consultant on Haiti.

“They mean well where that country is concerned, but, unsurprisingly, they are unfamiliar with its subtleties, and apparently have not understood that expressions of goodwill and concern are not an adequate substitute for substantive engagement with the community and people,” Dumas said.

Dumas’ relationship with Granderson dates back to the Trinidad and Tobago foreign service. Dumas consulted often with Granderson, he said, throughout his U.N. involvement with Haiti and “always found him extremely knowledgeable and helpful and our exchange of information, views, etc., on Haiti continued until his retirement.”

“He was the CARICOM point man on Haiti though I’m not sure to what extent the organization followed his advice,” Dumas said.

This story was originally published February 1, 2022 2:48 PM.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.