CARACOL, Haiti — On the first anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, in a sleepy corner of northeast Haiti far from the disaster zone, the Haitian government began the process of evicting 366 farmers from a large, fertile tract of land to clear the way for a new industrial park.
The farmers did not understand why the authorities wanted to replace productive agricultural land with factories in a rural country that had trouble feeding itself. But, promised compensation, they did not protest a strange twist of fate that left them displaced by an earthquake that had not affected them.
“We watched, voiceless,” Jean-Louis Saint Thomas, an elderly farmer, said. “The government paid us to shut us up.”
In Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, with rubble still clogging the streets, former President Bill Clinton, co-chairman of Haiti's recovery commission, had celebrated the Caracol Industrial Park as a glimmer of hope during a ceremony cementing an agreement with the anchor tenant – Sae-A Trading, a South Korean clothing manufacturer and major supplier to U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap Inc.
Two and a half years after the earthquake, Haiti remains mired in a humanitarian crisis, with 390,000 people languishing in tents. Yet the showcase project of the reconstruction effort is this: an industrial park that will create jobs and housing in an area undamaged by the temblor and in a venture that risks benefiting foreign companies more than Haiti itself.
The Caracol Industrial Park is hardly reconstruction in the strictest sense. Its developers, though, take the more expansive view that, in a desperately poor country where traditional foreign aid has chronically failed, fostering economic development is as important as replacing what fell down. Caracol, the promotional materials say, will help make Haiti globally competitive “without compromising on labor and environmental standards.”
But an examination of the Caracol project shows that its developers played down labor and environmental concerns, accelerating the planning and vetting process in their eagerness to make the park a reality while rebuilding lagged. Critics also say components of this project – a heavy-fuel-oil power plant, a dense housing complex and a port proposed for a pristine bay – betray the post-earthquake idealism about “building back better,” and that the spending of reconstruction funds in Caracol is misplaced.
“I would have chosen another site, given that this one was already occupied by people earning a living,” Landry Colas, the mayor of Caracol, said.