Jacqueline Charles, Herald.com (Miami), Aug. 15
A controversial cruise commemorating Haiti’s bicentennial set sail from Miami on Saturday, but without its biggest headliner: film star Danny Glover.
The actor, who has been the driving force behind the increasingly troubled cruise for the past two years, said he was pulling his support to make a political statement about Haiti’s 5-month-old U.S.-backed regime.
‘Due to the increasingly critical political situation in Haiti, which resulted in a loss of life, oppression and incarceration of thousands of Haitians, I have canceled my participation in ‘Cruising into History,’ “ Glover said at a news conference hours before the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was scheduled to depart from the Port of Miami-Dade for its seven-day Caribbean excursion.
Glover said he did not want to appear to support the new government, installed after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
“It’s impossible for us to be neutral in view of the coup that took place Feb. 29, 2004, against the duly elected government of Haiti, irrespective of our feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of President Aristide,” he said about his last-minute decision.
The voyage involves 500 Haitian and African-Americans who spent between $1,500 and $2,500, many of them at Glover’s urging. It was an opportunity to celebrate Haiti’s birth as a nation, while rubbing shoulders with black luminaries such as Glover, famed dancer Katherine Dunham, National Urban League President Marc Morial, Essence magazine Editorial Director Susan Taylor and poet Sonia Sanchez.
Billed as a nonpolitical, historical pilgrimage to Haiti, with an International Black Arts and Cultural Festival on board, organizers promised a daylong excursion through several northern Haitian towns including Milot, where travelers were to mount horses to visit King Henri Christophe’s historical San Souci Palace and a 19th century fortress, the Citadel.
But instead of historical ruins, voyagers will only see Labadee, the private landing for Royal Caribbean that cruise organizer Ron Daniels calls a “neocolonial enclave.”
And in addition to Glover, they will have to do without poet Sanchez, who also said Saturday she was canceling her appearance.
Daniels announced last week that he was changing the trip’s itinerary to prevent the voyage from becoming a showcase for the new Haitian government.
The cruise and its celebrity endorsers had become the focus of a pressure campaign by pro-Aristide supporters in the United States who demanded that “Cruising into Haiti” change course and not be used to “endorse and legitimize the de facto government” in Haiti.
Jonas Petit, a spokesman for Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party who attended the press conference Saturday, said while the group welcomes the position taken by organizers, it’s imperative that they understand that the Haitian people still are not free.
Haiti’s political landscape has changed, he said, and now is not the time to be celebrating.
Daniels said while he feels badly about raising the expectations of the thousands of people in Milot who had waited for two years on this visit, “we have a responsibility to respond where we see injustice taking place,” he said.