Basseterre, St. Kitts.– The leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community began their annual summit here on Monday by welcoming Haiti back into the regional bloc.
While the three-day gathering will include discussions of trade, economic development and cooperation on crime-fighting, the main element of this year's summit is the reincorporation of Haiti after an absence of two years.
Haitian President Rene Preval attended the summit to register the return of the hemisphere's poorest country to the bloc after it was excluded with the abrupt flight into exile of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
The Caricom leaders declared the interim U.S.-backed government that took over in Haiti unconstitutional after the departure of Aristide, who is now in exile in South Africa, but they declared that the February national elections were "free and fair," which led them to invite Port-au-Prince to rejoin the bloc.
Preval will be one of six regional leaders to deliver a speech at the summit's official opening ceremony to be held Monday evening at the headquarters of the Caribbean Central Bank here in the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Caricom comprises 15 countries – Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago – with a combined population of roughly 14 million.