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28144: (news) Chamberlain: Rice on Haiti and Caricom (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   NASSAU, Bahamas, March 22 (AP) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
aims to bolster the United States' economic and diplomatic ties with
Caribbean nations while seeking to repair a frayed U.S. relationship with
the region.
   Rice was in the Bahamas to meet Wednesday with 14 foreign ministers and
the secretary-general of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, a
regional trade bloc known as Caricom.
   On the agenda were discussions of how the United States could work with
the Caribbean countries to urge democratic change, enhance economies,
strengthen security and improve disaster preparedness.
   The brief Caribbean trip also was intended to alleviate friction between
the Bush administration and Caribbean leaders over the ouster of former
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
   "This is part of her effort to get this relationship back where it
should be," said Tom Shannon, assistant secretary of state for the Western
Hemisphere. "I think we're just about there."
   Caribbean leaders have accused the United States of being an accomplice
in Aristide's toppling. He fled Haiti amid a bloody rebellion and his
supporters contend the United States forced him from office. The Bush
administration says he left voluntarily.
   U.S. troops were sent to Haiti after Aristide's departure and remained
there until U.N. peacekeepers were deployed. By the end of 2006, the United
States will have provided $500 million in aid to Haiti over three years.
   Caricom suspended Haiti's membership shortly after Aristide fled,
refusing to recognize an interim government the group called
   Recently, the group has said Haiti will be allowed to rejoin if recent
presidential and parliamentary elections are deemed free and fair.
   Rice was urging the group to fully restore its relationship with Haiti
and help stabilize the country as its new government tries to overcome two
decades of democratic failure and widespread political violence.
   U.S. officials say the group not only pulled away from Haiti over the
past two years but also separated itself from international efforts to
strengthen the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
   Aside from a previous visit to Haiti, the trip was Rice's first to the
Caribbean as the top U.S. diplomat and the Bush administration considered
it the next step toward a solid policy agenda between Caribbean countries
and the United States.
   Previously, Rice met with the Caribbean foreign ministers in June in Ft.
Lauderdale, Fla., and again in September at the United Nations.
   On the Net:
   Caribbean Community and Common Market: http://www.caricom.org