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17606: Lemieux: Jamaica Observer: PM not attending Haiti's bicentennial celebrations (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

PM not attending Haiti's bicentennial celebrations
Jamaica sends non-resident ambassador
Observer Reporter
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

JAMAICA has sent only its non-resident ambassador to
Haiti's bicentennial celebrations, yet Prime Minister P J
Patterson has hailed the Haitian revolution - when slaves
defeated French armies to establish the world's first black
republic - as a source of "pride to black people

 At the same time, Patterson said he hoped the
celebrations, which get in high gear tomorrow - the actual
date of the declaration of independence - will not be
overshadowed by "instability, whether political, economic
or social"; a clear reference to the political agitation in
the country to unseat President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti's neighbours, who form the Caricom economic and
political bloc, were ready to play a role in resolving the
country's political problems, Patterson said.

"We are willing to work with all interests in Haiti to
promote dialogue in a search for an equitable solution to
the current political dilemma," the Jamaican leader said.
"We expect that the New Year will provide us with an early
opportunity to undertake such an initiative."

But Patterson invoked Haiti's critical role in the history
of black people and hoped that it would provide a rallying
point for unity in the country.

"It is our hope that in the cradle of Caribbean nationhood
that our brothers and sisters in Haiti will have the
courage and vision to join hands, from Cap Haitien to
Jeremie, from Port-de-Paix to Jacmel, to lift their country
towards the heights of its former glory as La Perle des
Antilles," Patterson said in a message to be released
"We of the Caribbean Community are ready to stand shoulder
to shoulder with you in pursuit of that goal," he added.

As the current chairman of Caricom, its head of external
relations and the community's longest-serving leader and
recognised elder statesman, it was expected that Patterson
would have attended what are important celebrations to the
community's newest member and one of Jamaica's closest

But yesterday foreign ministry officials confirmed that
Peter Black, Jamaica's non-resident ambassador to Haiti and
the ministry's under- secretary for bilateral and regional
affairs, was representing the island at the celebrations.
"He left for Haiti on Friday," said the ministry's
spokesman, Wilton Dyer.

"Mr Patterson will not be going," said Patterson's press
secretary, Huntley Medley.

Caricom will be formally represented by the Bahamian prime
minister, Perry Christie, with the Haitian government's
special guest being South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki's presence is particularly symbolic, with the leader
of a country that has only a dozen years emerged from white
minority, apartheid celebrating the first country where
black slaves defeated white masters to establish an
independent state.

However, some critics in Haiti, where the Opposition has
mounted street protests hoping to oust Aristide, claiming
rigged assembly elections more than two years ago, have
argued that Mbeki's visit is being manipulated to the
benefit of the government.

Jamaica House, the prime minister's office, did not give a
reason for Patterson's decision to stay away from Haiti.
But according to other sources, the prime minister has
claimed that a visit at this time would be too short and
would not give him enough time to hold meetings with the
>From its glory days as France's richest colony, Haiti,
which was isolated by white nations in its early days of
independence, has slipped to being the Hemisphere's poorest

During its 200-year history of independence it has been
through a series of turbulent dictatorships, until the
mid-1990s reinstatement of Aristide, a former Roman
Catholic priest, whose popular presidency, won after a
period of upheaval, was overthrown by the military.

The Opposition now accuses Aristide and members of his
ruling Lavalas Party of corruption and vote rigging and
international organisations have withheld financing to the
country, demanding that the election system be fixed.

Several rounds of talks between the government and
Opposition have failed to break the deadlock on the issue,
despite coaxing by Caricom.

In his message, Patterson acknowledged long periods of
"despair, tyranny and terror", but said that a yearning for
democracy ran deep in the Haitian people, evidenced by a
persistent struggle.

"We in the Caribbean Community seek to embrace you into the
tried and trusted tradition of parliamentary democracy and
the rule of law," the Jamaican leader said. "These are
precious values which we must nurture because other forms
of governance lead to consequences that are
counter-productive for the economic and social development
of our people."

Patterson stressed that democracy and dialogue was the
"only route to end political instability" as well as the
"well-being and prosperity of the Haitian people".

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