Originally: Jamaica’s Prime Minister Patterson will not attend Haiti?s bicentennial celebrations

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 everywhere”.

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 today. “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 neighbours.

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 Opposition. 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 nation.

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”.