Ilna Saint Jean remembers all the crops her family used to grow where the Caracol Industrial Park now sits. On her half-hectare plot, the 60-year-old peasant farmer recalls, “We had yucca, corn, black beans, pigeon peas, okra, peanuts, all kinds of stuff.” This plot, in the farmland area referred to by locals as Tè Chabè, allowed Saint Jean to support her nine children. The community was untouched by the 2010 earthquake.
One year later, however, in January 2011, “everything was lost,” Saint Jean says. A Haitian government agent arrived without warning and removed her fence. The yucca, beans and other plants were soon entirely destroyed by roaming animals.
“They told us the land doesn’t belong to us, it’s the state’s land, it’s the foreigners’ land,” Saint Jean says. “They came and took the land, they cemented it, and they made that industrial park on it.”
While supporters describe the industrial park as a flagship project of post-earthquake recovery, the plans for it had actually been discussed months before the disaster, at a trade conference convened by the IDB and the William J. Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit founded and directed by former President Bill Clinton. Such industrial parks are central to the neoliberal economic model the U.S. government has pushed for decades. This model has long held that low-wage sectors like garment manufacturing are a necessary stepping stone to prosperity for countries like Haiti, and that governments should offer tax breaks and incentives for private corporations to set up shop. Unfortunately, because these factories pay workers so little, they can also exacerbate pre-existing economic and social inequalities. Moreover, garment manufacturing is often detrimental to local communities and environments, given its high water requirements and polluting waste.
The U.S. government has championed garment manufacturing as a viable economic development strategy for Haiti since the 1970s, proclaiming Haiti could become “the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” With U.S. support, employment in the garment industry—which, at the time, had largely been concentrated in Port-au-Prince—peaked in the 1980s. Partly because of the extremely low wages, however, these factories never kickstarted the promised economic boom. They also spurred the rise of slums, attracting tens of thousands of job-seekers to Port-au-Prince who could not afford standard housing.
Despite these problems, the U.S. continued to create incentives for the Haitian garment industry. HOPE II, a 2008 trade deal between the United States and Haiti, allows Haitian-made textiles to enter the U.S. without tariffs, an attractive lure for companies from around the world.
The Haitian government’s Action Plan for National Recovery and Development, unveiled at the March 2010 UN donors’ conference, articulated a vision of reconstruction based on a more just society, capable of meeting Haitians’ basic needs, with an emphasis on housing and environmentally sustainable projects. But it also included more industrial parks for such sectors as textile production.
The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, an international body mandated to ensure accountability in the post-earthquake rebuilding and co-chaired by Bill Clinton, approved the construction of the Caracol park. Hillary Clinton’s State Department recruited Sae-A, a major Korean garment manufacturer, as its anchor tenant.
The Haitian government agreed to provide the land, the IDB offered $100 million for construction, and the United States pledged $124 million for a power plant, a new port (later cancelled), and a housing project. Sae-A committed $78 million to the project and predicted 20,000 new jobs, scoring free facilities and tax breaks in exchange.
Before the deal was signed, the AFL-CIO warned the U.S. government about Sae-A’s record of “
acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where it closed its flagship factory in 2011, after threatening to leave the country following a dispute with a local union.
Environmentalists also raised concerns about water and waste, given the site was on some of Haiti’s most fertile farmland and close to Caracol Bay, a fragile marine ecosystem home to critically endangered species and an important source of food and income for many in Caracol. The mayor of Caracol was not informed of the project until after the site had been decided. The U.S. consulting firm that proposed the site, Koios Associates, later admitted it had not carried out an environmental assessment; upon review, the consultants rated the project “high risk” and recommended either a change of location or to just end the project altogether.
The project’s backers charged forward.
The industrial park opened its doors in 2012. Seven years later, In These Times visited Caracol to find the labor and environmental concerns were well founded. Through interviews with factory workers and evicted peasant farmers, union reps and a local environmental group, it emerged that this U.S.-backed project created a host of new problems for thousands of Haitians.Print