Inside Story America

Will foreign investment aid or exploit Haiti?

We ask if international businesses will help Haiti get back on its feet, or turn out to be a glorified sweatshop.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have unveiled a project – a $300m industrial park – that backers say will help reduce poverty in the country.

It is hoped that the endorsement by the former US president and current US secretary of state would encourage further foreign investment in the venture.

The biggest question is that Caracol has kind of taken all the oxygen out of the room, it’s all that people talk about, and yet it’s going to create at the maximum over six years 65,000 jobs, which is really a drop in the bucket.”

– Robert Maguire, Haiti working group chairman

Hillary said: “We have been united by a single goal; making investments in this country’s people and your infrastructure that helped put Haiti finally on the path to broad based economic growth with a more vibrant private sector and less dependence on foreign assistance.”

Promoters say the Caracol Industrial Complex near the northern city of Cap Haitien has the potential to provide tens of thousands of jobs, and that it is finally a sign of regeneration in Haiti following the destruction of the 2010 earthquake.

But critics argue the park is little more than a glorified sweatshop. Already workers allege that foreign companies are not even paying the minimum wage of $5 a day.

Local farmers say they were also forced off their land to make way for the development.

It’s the same story we’re seeing time and time again… Though Caracol represents the largest and most modern industrial park zone in the Caribbean some of the same practices of exploiting workers are continuing.”

-Manolia Charlotin, executive editor, The Haitian Times

Meanwhile, the problems exacerbating Haiti’s slow recovery from the earthquake have been highlighted once more with the final demise of the Yele Haiti charity.

Its founder, pop star Wyclef Jean, once trumpeted the venture as “Haiti’s greatest asset and ally”. But a report earlier this month uncovered the financial irregularities that squandered millions of dollars in post-quake donations.

Yet another blow to the morale of huge numbers of Haitians came last week with the renewal of the UN’s mandate in the country. UN troops were found to have been responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, which led to the deaths of thousands. They are also the subject in a series of abuse claims.

So what is the best way to aid Haiti’s recovery?

Joining the discussion with Shihab Rattansi on Inside Story Americas are guests: Kim Ives, a filmmaker and journalist with Haiti Liberte newspaper; Robert Maguire, the chairman of Haiti’s working group at the US Institute of Peace; and Manolia Charlotin, the executive editor of The Haitian Times.

“This [Caracol venture] is building back in a very worst way… In addition they have taken an ecological jewel…a virgin mangrove forest along with coral reefs, a river and farmland that was supporting 366 farms and pave it over to put these sweatshops.”

Kim Ives, editor, Haiti Liberte

Yele Haiti charity – what went wrong:

  • In mid-October The New York Times reported an attorney-general’s investigation into financial improprieties.
  • The investigation found hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on what it called “improper transactions”.
  • For example, the charity spent $31,000 to fly US starlet Lindsay Lohan to a benefit that raised just $66,000.
  • In 2010, Yele spent $4.5m – which is half its overall spending for that year – on travel, salaries, consultants’ fees and office expenses.
  • The charity also spent money on programmes that never came to fruition, such as $93,000 for homes that were never completed; or $146,000 for a medical centre to have been housed in a geodesic dome.