BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — The Republic of Haiti will in February host this year's Inter-Sessional Meeting of Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Governments in its capital, Port-au-Prince, with two firsts to its credit.
It will be the first time the oldest independent nation of the Latin American/Caribbean region will host such a summit, and also the first occasion to be presiding as chairman of Caricom, now in its 40th year of existence.
President Michel Martelly, who on January 1 assumed the six-month rotating chairmanship from St Lucia's Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, did not miss the opportunity to note that this year also marks the 209th anniversary of Haiti's Independence "under the banner of freedom and unity".
The process of "provisional membership" of Haiti into the "family of Caricom states" goes back to 1997, when former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson hosted a regular annual summit of the regional economic integration in Kingston with then Haitian President Rene Preval as a "distinguished guest".
But the full membership process was interrupted by a foreign-backed military coup against the new administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and forced Caricom to suspend Haiti's membership in protest against such an action against a democratically elected government.
Haiti's membership status, under the revised Caricom Treaty signed by Aristide, was officially restored in 2006 at that year's annual summit hosted by the government of St Kitts and Nevis.
In welcoming his accession to chairman of the 15-member Caricom, President Martelly pledged to "resolutely commit myself and my country to the noble and urgent necessity for us to unite to overcome the serious economic, environmental and social challenge affecting the region...".
As new chairman, President Martelly will preside over the three-member Caricom Bureau that functions as a management committee on behalf of the Heads of Government, in cooperation with the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat, which is headed by Secretary General Irwin LaRocque.
The committee, will now comprise Martelly; former Community chairman, Dr Anthony; and the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She is expected to assume the chairmanship at the regular annual Caricom Heads of Government Conference in July, likely to be held in Port of Spain, her country's capital city.