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Clinton Legacy: "Restoring Slavery" at $300m Haitian Industrial Complex

Re-imagining the "Taiwan of the Caribbean," again

- Common Dreams staff

The Clintons are in Haiti to inaugurate the new $300 million industrial facility touted as "transformative" for the quake-ravaged country, but many wonder if this is simply the next round of imperialism in a country that has been plagued (literally) by outside intervention for too long.

The Clinton's travel to Haiti to celebrate the opening of a new $300 million sweatshop. (Photo by Associated Press) The Caracol Industrial Park, which is hailed as “the centerpiece of the U.S. effort to help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake,” according to Trenton Daniel for the Associated Press, is slated to be built on a remote 617-acre site of farmland, mangroves and coral reefs in the northern part of the country.

Critics of the project believe that the industrial park does little more than replicate failed efforts from the past and will benefit outsiders more than Haitians. Writing for Haiti Liberte, Mona Péralte notes, (translated) "this park is a direct illustration of the role of imperialism in the country namely for exploit [if it] come cheaply, if not restore slavery."

Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist at Wesleyan University, adds, "this is not a strategy that is meant to provide Haiti with any measure of sustainable development […] The only reason those industries come to Haiti is because the country has the lowest wages in the region.”

Workers are already protesting the wages offered by the park's anchor tenant, the South Korean apparel company and Walmart supplier, Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. Etant Dupain writing on the Let Haiti Live website, notes:

Before the official inauguration, several thousand employees have been working in the Caracol park for the last three months at a wage of 150 gourdes ($3.75 US) a day. Since October 1st, the new minimum wage law has gone into effect, with the government setting the minimum at 300 gourdes a day. Despite this, the managers of the factory operating at Caracol aren't respecting the new official minimum wage.

Sae-A's Haiti representative, Daniel Cho, told AP that the employees "will be paid almost $5 for eight hours of work."

In an effort to attract other tenants to the park, the project's architects are offering duty-free status and a 15-year tax holiday. Dupuy says that because of these tax breaks, "outside investors will have more to gain than Haitians," from this project.

The Clintons and their celebrity supporters (Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, fashion designer Donna Karan and British business magnate Richard Branson were all in tow) were in Caracol on Monday to celebrate the opening. Government officials have been lauding the Caracol project as panacea for Haiti's debilitating economic woes. "We had learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid,” Secretary Clinton told a roomful of investors. “So we shifted our assistance to investments to address some of the biggest challenges facing this country: creating jobs and sustainable economic growth.”

Backers of the complex estimate that the park has the potential to generate up to 65,000 total jobs; Sae-A Korea, who already employs 400 people, agreed to create 20,000 permanent jobs within six years and build 5,000 employee houses on site.

The project—which was in the works before the earthquake—became a top priority for the Obama administration after the disaster. Washington has since invested $124 million in the project, making it the U.S.'s biggest single investment in the aftermath of the quake. According to the Associated Press, "it is certain to shape the legacy of the Clintons."

For many local Haitians, there are flashbacks to the baseball factories built in the 1970s and 1980s under the regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. AP writer Daniel notes:

Those jobs prompted thousands of farmers to leave their fields for the capital, and agricultural areas suffered from neglect. Shantytowns like Cite Soleil emerged to house the new workers. The factories got tax breaks but there was no income to offset Duvalier’s alleged plundering of state coffers. Haiti was supposed to become the “Taiwan of the Caribbean” but instead suffered through economic collapse brought on by political instability.