Martinique (143832)

A delegation led by Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, traveled to the beautiful Caribbean island nation of Martinique last week with the purpose of finalizing that country’s participation in Harlem Week 2015, the new Harlem Music Festival and the annual Multinational Business Conference in 2016. Many of the details of the visit were discussed in the first meeting with senior representatives of Martinique’s presidential Cabinet and national business leaders at the Hotel Bateliere in Lamentin, not too far from the nation’s capital city, Fort-de-France.

“We look forward to the creation of a long-term and meaningful relationship between the Harlems of America and Martinique, and we are very pleased that you invited us to visit and meet with you,” Williams told the representatives at the evening’s VIP dinner.

Two senior Martiniquans among the representatives were Eve Lombard, project manager of Invest Martinique and Martinique Tourism Commissioner, and Karine Roy-Camille, who began her remarks by noting the importance of a mutual sharing between the parties. “We want you to come and discover our country,” she said before explaining some of the country’s characteristics, including its two languages, French and Creole. “And the next time you come, you will probably arrive on an American Airlines plane because they will shortly launch flights directly from the U.S. to Martinique.”

Williams agreed that the partnership with American Airlines and the added flights would definitely improve the island’s tourism appeal to North American visitors and help Martinique in its stated quest to develop niche markets, particularly with the African-American travel, tourist and convention sectors.

At each of the stops for the delegation, they were introduced to the various unique facets of the island’s enterprise and the extent to which its infrastructure is being vastly overhauled and updated, none more promising than transportation. The most ambitious project is a hybrid bus line that will connect the east and west coast, in the middle of the island, where the largest concentration of the 400,000 inhabitants live. “By October, we will be ready for a test run on the line,” said Franck Numeric, the director of the TCSP Public Company, after he and his team delivered a PowerPoint presentation.

Easing the congestion is estimated to cost nearly $450 million, and Numeric said the project will meet its deadline for completion in December. However, questions were raised by several delegates about possible alternative measures, such as rail, which does not exist on the island, and what benefits it might bring the neediest for improved transportation. Numeric said that feasibility studies had been conducted on each concern as they moved forward. In addition, he said, the project will employ more than 100 construction workers and 300 permanent employees.

One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to the Aime Cesaire Museum. Cesaire, like another native of the island, the great revolutionary Frantz Fanon, was a prominent author and a former mayor of Fort-de-France. Christine Michalon gave the visitors an engaging history of Cesaire, a founder of Negritude, a cultural movement that acquired much of its inspiration and perspective from the Harlem Renaissance. Cesaire died in 2008, but his daughter Michelle dutifully carries on his legacy as the director of the theater housed in the Hotel de Ville. Whether or notyou’re intellectually curious, this stop is a major and rewarding site for tourists.

Our entire delegation was intrigued and so will be all visitors who are introduced to the scientific innovations at PARM, an agri-business research center. Katia Rochefort explained several endeavors at the laboratory, including the intervention role of fruits and vegetables as antioxidants, which foods are rich in fiber and which contain the most vitamins and nutrition. Her associate had the task of defining Valcaco, Martinique’s plan to compete in the world of chocolate, and it has already made substantial progress locally through its distribution via the Lauzea brand.

Our 12-member delegation had already sampled some of the tasty chocolate, and that evening at the Place Abbe Gregoire, we were entertained by a fabulous historic reenactment of the island’s 1848 Emancipation. The delegation was given a special introduction by the president’s representative, which received a resounding ovation from the thousands assembled to see the spectacular mixed-media presentation, with a huge screen depicting a variety of images as musicians and dancers cavorted on stage. The Olympic-styled occasion was given added significance with the presence of Archbishop David Macaire and Fort-de-France’s Mayor Didier Laguerre. “I think the troupe would go over well during Harlem Week,” Williams remarked to Laguerre.

Still feeling the vibes from the previous night, our delegation, which included Patricia Ricketts, vice president of the GHCC; Dr. Enrique Riggs, chairman of the GHCC International Affairs Committee; Karl and Faye Rodney, publisher and president of NY CARIB News; Gregory Campbell, president of Rainmaker and chairman of GHCC International Development Committee; attorney Larry Frazier, chair of the Anacostia Museum, Washington, D.C., and vice chairman of the GHCC Arts & Culture Committee; Kim Mitchell, a former vice president of JPMorgan Chase, senior member of GHCC Harlem Music Festival Committee; David Laufer, senior partner of Strategies & Communications and member of the Harlem Week planning committee; the Rev. Dennis Dillon, publisher of the New York Christian Times; Katsuya Abe, GHCC International special event producer; and this senior reporter, representing the New York Amsterdam News, were driven to Saint Joseph, a city about a half hour away.

The first thing you see there are three red, black and green flags unfurled and flying above the land, waiting for the planting ritual that happens each year on the property owned by Laurent Alex. Many of those milling about the compound or farming together wore green T-shirts emblematic of their connection to Lasote. Armed with picks and hoes, they chopped up a quarter of acre of land. All the while, explained historian and guide Marie-Annick Paulin-Pyram, drummers kept up a rhythmic beat in time with the workers tilling the soil.

With the work done, our group was treated to a traditional Martinique native feast, and it was an elaborate communal spread with bread crumbs, fish, bread fruit and a sauce atop palm fronds. All were invited to partake of the three-table long meal. The meal, lecture and watching workers in an age-old tradition was in keeping with the communal atmosphere of a Maroon community.

At a concluding press meeting and conference, with Martinique television, radio and print in attendance, the delegation heard more of the island’s development plans and the possible ties to Harlem from Jean Crusol, president of Martinique Development, and Luc Louison Clemente, president of Invest Martinique and mayor of Schoelcher, another key town. Their comments echoed what the group had heard from previous representatives and prepared us for the closing remarks from Serge Letchimy, president of the Martinique Regional Council, during a farewell dinner at the luxurious La Suite Ville boutique and Zandoli restaurant.

“We look forward to our ongoing contact and developing lasting relationships with Harlem and the chamber, and it is important to us to make this happen,” Letchimy said with great enthusiasm.

“And the feelings are mutual and this promises to be a very fruitful relationship,” Williams said.

Surrounded by the colorful paintings of Ponce, with its cubist style that competed with the meal and bonhomie, the tour ended as it began—on a high note and with great expectations.