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7087: Caribbean Leaders Wrap Up Summit (Aristide at meeting)

Caribbean Leaders Wrap Up Summit
Associated Press Writer

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- Caribbean leaders wrapped up a three-day summit,
postponing an agreement to boosted trade with Cuba but urging impoverished
Haiti to join their 13-member trading bloc.

Members of Caricom had said they would seal the Cuba deal by Friday but
postponed the signing because both sides wanted to make changes in the
agreement, which gives preferential trading status on items ranging from
cement to fruit juice.

The deal should be ready by the annual Caricom conference in July in the
Bahamas, said Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington.

Last July, Cuba and the 13-nation Caribbean Community trade bloc signed an
initial agreement establishing a free trade area. Trade between Cuba and
other Caribbean countries reached $120 million last year, a 40 percent
increase over the previous year.

Negotiations on the Cuba agreement Friday coincided with the arrival of
new Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had not attended a Caricom
meeting since 1991, the same year he was ousted by the military.

''An economically strong Haiti will make for a stronger Caricom,''
Aristide told Caribbean leaders at the meeting in Barbados.

''We know that the road to this stronger Haiti must pass through
negotiations to dissipate the political tensions and trigger the release
of international funds.''

Haiti has not ratified the agreement an agreement that would admit the
shattered country because it had, until recently, been without a
Parliament since former President Rene Preval dismissed legislators in
1999 to resolve a longstanding power struggle.

While urging Haiti to join Caricom, leaders also voiced their concerns
over Haiti's instability, namely May Parliamentary elections that the
Organization of American States said gave Aristide's Lavalas party an
unfair majority.

Aristide, who was inaugurated earlier this month, has said he was willing
to include the opposition in his government but the opposition has refused
to recognize his government.