Mr Speaker, today I update the House on matters related to the just concluded CONCACAF Under 17 football championship which was staged in Montego Bay, St. James. I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating the Jamaican team which advanced to FIFA Under 17 World Cup Finals in Mexico later this year by finishing as one of the 4 top teams in the CONCACAF tournament.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I offer congratulations to the other teams that qualified for the World Cup Finals from this tournament: United States, Canada and Panama.

Again, I offer the sympathies of the Government and people of Jamaica to the Government and people of Haiti whose team’s participation in the tournament was cut short by malaria.  We regret that illness forced the Haitian team out of the tournament and affected their World Cup aspirations.  Please note I said ‘affected’, Mr Speaker instead of ‘ended’ because I am aware that the Haitian Government is making overtures to FIFA and CONCACAF to give special consideration to the Haitian team to compete at the Under 17 World Cup Finals.  The Prime Minister, the Honourable Bruce Golding has already given the assurance of Jamaica’s support to the President of Haiti His Excellency Rene Preval; and I now inform the House of the Government of Jamaica’s full support of the Haitian Government’s proposal to FIFA and CONCACAF for special consideration.

The news of Haiti’s withdrawal from the tournament in Montego Bay has been the subject of controversy, especially in Port-au-Prince where there were street protests based on misrepresentations and misinformation.  The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has been involved in the dialogue as both Governments moved to end the protests and to preserve and strengthen the centuries old bonds of friendship between both countries.

The Government of Haiti sent a special delegation to Jamaica on a fact-finding mission between the 21st and the 23rd of February.  The delegation included:

–      the Director General of the Haitian Ministry of Youth and Sports, Daniel Pierre-Charles;

–      the Director General of the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, Gabriel Thymote;

–      the President of the Haitian Olympic Committee, Patrick Blanchet;

–      independent journalist, Marcus Garcia;

–      and the Honorary Consul of Jamaica to Haiti, Daniel-Gerard Rouzier.

The delegation had meetings in Kingston involving myself; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Dr Ken Baugh; the Minister of Health and Environment, the Honourable Rudyard Spencer as well as officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health.

The delegation also had meetings in Montego Bay with the President of the JFF, Captain Horace Burrell and his team; and also with the Mayor Montego Bay, His Worship Councillor Charles Sinclair.  The delegation was given access to the Cornwall Regional Hospital to view the facilities and interview staff; and also viewed the facilities at the hotel where the football contingent resided and met with the manager of the property.

Through those meetings and inspections, the delegation was able to get a full understanding of the events as they really happened.

Based on the report of this special delegation, President Preval of Haiti gave Prime Minister Golding the assurance at the Caricom Heads of Government meeting in Grenada that the matter was now closed.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to give Parliament an update and to correct some inaccuracies that have been reported about the treatment of the Haitian delegation, especially over the 72 hour period beginning February 14:

1.     Jamaica did not single out the Haitian delegation for screenings at the airports.  As a routine, passengers from Latin America, South-East Asia, Africa, Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic are asked to fill out questionnaires and report about any abnormal symptoms on their arrival in Jamaica.

2.     There were no armed guards or armed thugs intimidating or restraining any member of the Haitian football contingent.  Two women police officers – a Senior Superintendent and an assistant – were present at the hotel for a maximum of 45 minutes on Tuesday, February 15, 2011.  They wore civilian attire.  They were not armed and at no time did they interact with any of the players.  No one was ever handcuffed.

3.     It was not a restrictive quarantine.  Each member of the delegation was provided with food and had access to medicine both at the hospital and in the hotel where most of the affected members of the delegation remained.

4.     The Government of Jamaica did not expel the Haitian football team.  The decision for the Haitian football team to withdraw was taken by the President of the Haitian Football Federation in consultation with CONCACAF. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, the Media Release from CONCACAF dated Wednesday, February 16, 2011 stated: “The Haitian Football Federation informed CONCACAF Tuesday evening that it can no longer field a team at the confederation’s Under-17 Championship in Montego Bay, Jamaica, due to an illness that has struck members of its delegation”.

Again, the Government deeply regrets the circumstances that necessitated the withdrawal of the Haitian team from the CONCACAF tournament.  I understand the pain felt by the Haitian delegation and the people of Haiti, particularly the young players.

We are pleased that the misunderstandings have been clarified and the matter resolved.

We are moving to arrange football matches between both countries as we continue efforts to preserve and strengthen our relationship.  I will give more details as soon as the arrangements have been finalised.

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