Caracol: A Glittering Industrial Park in Haiti Falls Short


Jonathan M. Katz writes about Haiti’s Caracol Park—a cornerstone of post-earthquake ‘reconstruction’—which is “not living up to its backers’ lofty promises.” USAID’s role in Caracol has been greatly criticized. Here are excerpts:

The young men playing dominoes in this tin-roofed fishing village used to have high hopes for the industrial park being built up the road. [. . .] But less than a year after Caracol Industrial Park’s gala opening — with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Sean Penn, designer Donna Karan and Haiti’s current and former presidents among the guests — the feeling these days is disappointment. Hundreds of smallholder farmers were coaxed into giving up more than 600 acres of land for the complex, yet nearly 95 percent of that land remains unused. A much-needed power plant was completed on the site, supplying the town with more electricity than ever, but locals say surges of wastewater have caused floods and spoiled crops.

Most critically, fewer than 1,500 jobs have been created — paying too little, the locals say, and offering no job security. “We thought there was going to be some benefit for us,” says Ludwidge Fountain, 34, laying his domino with a satisfying smack. He worked for two months at the park as a guard, taking home about $3.40 a day, until his contract ran out. “Maybe it’s good for some of the people inside the park. Everyone else got nothing.”

The industrial park near Caracol is the centerpiece of U.S.-led reconstruction of Haiti after its January 2010 earthquake — even though the northern village was undamaged, sitting more than 100 miles northeast of the epicenter. The State Department has promised the park will create 65,000 jobs, powering an economic revitalization of northern Haiti while reducing overcrowding in the quake-stricken capital (though northern Haiti is at least as seismically active as the south). At the opening, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called it “a new day for Haiti and a new model for how the international community practices development.”

Yet in a larger sense, the project is the result of an economic philosophy promoted by Washington for poor and ravaged countries around the world: that setting up a low-paying textile sector to cheaply stock U.S. stores and closets is a first step on the path out of poverty. In fact, it has been the core U.S. economic plan for Haiti since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the country’s economy was under the control of the dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. And still today, it’s a plan that — unlike other forms of development aid — the U.S. is generally eager to finance: More than $270 million has been set aside for Caracol by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Inter-American Development Bank.

But despite those high expectations — or maybe because of them — some officials in Washington are as frustrated as the factory’s neighbors. Nearly three years after the project was announced, the park still has just one major tenant: Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., a Seoul-based textile giant that supplies Wal-mart, Gap, Target and others. (The sole other occupant, a Haitian franchisee of Sherwin-Williams Paints, has only a few dozen employees.) Even with another apparel maker expected in the park soon and Sae-A planning to create another 1,400 jobs by year’s end, the park is nowhere close to producing the 20,000 jobs its backers have promised over the next few years, much less the 65,000 predicted by the State Department.

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