The Bahamas and the Republic of Haiti signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the waiver of visas for holders of diplomatic and official passports Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Brent Symonette signed on behalf of The Bahamas and Ambassador Louis Harold Joseph on behalf of the Republic of Haiti.

“This Memorandum of Understanding is a reciprocal agreement providing for the waiver of visa requirement for diplomats and officials from both countries,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs. “This waiver will also facilitate the closer collaboration between our two countries, as both Haitian and Bahamian diplomats and officials can travel to the respective country without a visa.

“This ease of travel by our diplomats and officials is a sign of the deepening of our relationship and a further strengthening of the bonds that have shaped the social and historical development of the two countries.”

Mr Symonette thanked the Haitian Ambassador for his work in assisting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in fostering relations between both countries, which he considered to be “working as smoothly as possible and we look forward to 2009 being a very productive year.”

Ambassador Joseph said Haiti was “very grateful” for the assistance The Bahamas has provided over the years, particularly the Bahamas’ recent donation of $500,000 which he said will go towards Haitians rebuilding their lives after several devastating hurricanes this year.

Mr. Symonette said the donation from The Bahamas and other CARICOM countries is a show of solidarity within the region. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding marked the end of several months of negotiations between Haiti and The Bahamas.

In April 2008, Cabinet directed the Ministry of Foreign to conclude an agreement with Haiti to abolish the visa requirements for holders of diplomatic or official passports.

The purpose of this directive was to give effect to the decision of the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government at its 19th Intercessional Meeting held in Nassau in March this year. The Bahamas is one of four CARICOM countries to effect the Conference’s decision.

CARICOM Heads issued the directive to waive the visa requirement for Haitian diplomats and officials in order to facilitate the participation of Haiti in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a full member of that regional body.

The Republic of Haiti signed the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in February this year. Haitian diplomats and officials were experiencing difficulties obtaining visas for entry into the various CARICOM counties to attend meetings. Some meetings were called at very short notices and therefore Haitian officials were unable to attend due to the lengthy visa processing times.