BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – Haiti's new government is committed to increasing stability and developing closer ties with its neighbors, President Rene Preval told a summit of the 15-nation Caribbean Community.
"I hope that at the end of my mandate in February 2011, the Republic of Haiti will have taken decisive steps on the long, difficult road of democratic stability and sustainable development," Preval said on Monday.
The speech marked Haiti's re-entry into the group, known as Caricom, which suspended the impoverished nation's membership shortly after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled in 2004 after a bloody revolt.
"I will work my hardest to contribute to strengthening ties between my country and yours," said Preval, who took office in May. "And I will work with you for the advent of a Caribbean that will be more brotherly, stronger and more unified."
Caricom refused to recognize Haiti's U.S.-backed interim government, lifting its suspension only after the country returned to democratic rule with elections in February.
Incoming Caricom chairman and St. Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said the group struggled with how to treat Haiti during the past year, but held fast that it would not deal with any government that did not reflect the will of the Haitian people.
Jamaica's new prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, welcomed Haiti's return.
"The return of Haiti has restored Caricom to its full strength and has served to reaffirm that the democratic traditions of the Caribbean remain entrenched in the political fabric of our community," she said.
Also on Monday, six Caribbean nations — Antigua, St. Kitts, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica — joined the Caribbean single market after delaying their entry by six months from the launch of the agreement.
Designed to facilitate the exchange of goods and services, the single market goes into effect in 2008.
Trinidad Prime Minister Patrick Manning urged countries to drop their objections to the deal's provisions for easing restrictions on the movement of certain categories of workers.
"Our people must be able to move, work and live freely in the region," Manning said. "Without that freedom, our integration process will stagnate and decline."
The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States had expressed concern about a trade imbalance between its member nations, which share a common currency, and Caricom.
The summit, which marks Caricom's 25th anniversary, runs through July 6. Leaders also planned to discuss energy issues, Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, the migration of skilled workers and rising crime in the tourist-dependent islands.