Belefonte Addresses Caribbean Govts. Confab


NEW YORK -- Tourism would not have been the Caribbean peoples' first choice to secure their economy, but they nevertheless cater with dignity to visitors, celebrity Harry Belafonte said in a speech at the 25th annual Governments of the Caribbean State Ball here.

In an address on May 29 before 700 tourism officials at the Waldorf Astoria, Belafonte first told the audience it was arrogant for talking while Rex Nettleford, deputy vice chancellor at the University of West Indies in Jamaica, tried to deliver his speech just prior to Belafonte.

The 71-year-old Belafonte, who grew up in Jamaica and had been touted by state ball organizers as "this favorite son" of the region, said that people typically think of the Caribbean as a place to "pursue sexual" pleasures, and where "happy-go-lucky" people like to drink rum. In fact, said Belafonte, the Caribbean people have great strength and are hardworking.

The longtime civil and human rights activist said he recorded songs like "Day-O" in an attempt to reemphasize that point.

After the speech, Michael Youngman, director of marketing for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, told Travel Weekly that Belafonte's comments marked "the first time in 25 years that anyone was able to tame this audience."

Jean Holder, secretary general of the CTO, added, "Harry Belafonte is a serious person. He doesn't take matters lightly."

Noting that Belafonte has been honored by the White House and the United Nations, Holder said he is "used to people listening."

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