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Caricom chairman leads delegation to Haiti

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 4/5/2012, 4:40 p.m.

The 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc has sent a team to finance-starved Haiti this week to assess the state of play there after the devastating earthquake of January 2011 that killed more than 300,000 people. The team was sent to help the country prepare for more meaningful participation in the work of the integration movement stretching from Suriname on the South American mainland to the Bahamas and to Belize in Central America.

Desi Bouterse, president of Suriname and current chairman of the bloc, heads a high-level delegation of regional prime ministers that also includes Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and the newly elected Kenneth Anthony of St. Lucia. Former Jamaican Prime Minister Percival Patterson, the special regional envoy to Haiti, is also on the team, as is regional foreign affairs chief Colin Granderson.

Caricom said in a statement that that it wants to have an in-depth discussion with its poorest and most populous member state "with respect to its priorities to determine the nature of assistance required."

Sessions are planned with Haitian President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Gary Conille, private sector opposition figures, social activists and media operatives to get a sense of the situation on the ground, the challenges to progress and suggestions about how the recovery effort can be improved, officials said.

Haiti was the last nation to join Caricom back in 2002, but various political, economic and other challenges have prevented it from fully participating in the work of the bloc, including the free trade system and membership in the Trinidad-based regional appeals court. Its French-influenced system differs significantly from those in use in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Caricom has said that it feels compelled to lead the chorus of complaints to the United States, other Western nations and multilateral donors like the World Bank to Haiti to honor aid and other pledges made in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that leveled much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other districts.

Haiti's neighbors and fellow bloc members have played their own role in helping the island of 9 million recover from the earthquake by sending aid, medical teams and other forms of assistance, but they admit not to having enough resources themselves to go around in a nation with a relatively large population.

Even as the island struggles to recover from the earthquake, it has also suffered damage from several hurricanes and heavy rains during last year's storm season, compounding the situation for authorities there.