The Miami Herald
July 18, 2001

 At Castro's invitation, Aristide visits Havana

 Trip offers chance to solidify ties between the two nations

 HAVANA -- (AFP) -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti was in Cuba on Tuesday for his first official visit here since taking power last February on a personal invitation from President Fidel Castro, official sources said.

 Aristide, accompanied by his wife and various members of his cabinet, was welcomed Monday at José Martí International Airport by Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.

 The trip is ``an opportunity to solidify the solidarity between the two nations and explore the possibility of further bilateral cooperation,'' Aristide told reporters here.

 About 600 Cubans work in Haiti, assisting in areas that include health, agriculture, education and fishing, under accords signed since the Caribbean neighbors
 reestablished diplomatic relations in 1996.

 After meetings with Castro and other top officials, Aristide will tour hospitals and sports facilities before returning to Haiti on Thursday.

 On his arrival in Havana, Aristide saluted efforts by the Organization of American States to encourage talks among Haiti's political parties about future elections.

 ``We think that dialogue is the road necessary to arrive at a solution,'' Aristide said. ``We have begun the dialogue and we are going to keep taking steps toward a
 resolution through dialogue.''

 Disagreements between Haiti's governing Lavalas Party and opposition parties over elections have caused a yearlong political standoff, prompting nations to withhold millions of dollars in foreign aid.

 Aristide spoke one day after his nation's political parties agreed to hold elections to replace local and most parliamentary seats and to continue negotiating dates for the voting.

                                    © 2001