Across the country from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, miles of decrepit pot-holed streets give way to a smooth roadway leading up to the gates of the Caracol Industrial Park, but no further. The fishing hamlet of Caracol, from which the park gets its name, lies around the bend down a bumpy dirt road. Four years after the earthquake that destroyed the country on January 12, 2010, the Caracol Industrial Park is the flagship reconstruction project of the international community in Haiti. Signs adorn nearby roads, mostly in English, declaring the region “Open for Business.” In a dusty field, hundreds of empty, brightly colored houses are under construction in neat rows. If all goes as hoped for by the enthusiastic backers of the industrial park, this area could be home to as many as 300,000 additional residents over the next decade.
The plan for the Caracol Industrial Park project actually predates the 2010 earthquake. In 2009, Oxford University economist Paul Collier released a U.N.–sponsored report outlining a vision for Haiti’s economic future; it encouraged garment manufacturing as the way forward, noting U.S. legislation that gave Haitian textiles duty-free access to the U.S. market as well as “labour costs that are fully competitive with China… [due to] its poverty and relatively unregulated labour market.”
The report, embraced by the U.N. and the U.S., left a mark on many of the post-earthquake planning documents. Among the biggest champions of the plan were the Clintons, who played a crucial role in attracting a global player to Haiti. While on an official trip to South Korea as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton brought company officials from one of the largest South Korean manufacturers to the U.S. embassy to sell them on the idea. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, having just appointed Bill Clinton U.N. special envoy to Haiti, tapped connections in his home country, South Korea.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A few days after the Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake, Reginald Boulos opened the gates of his destroyed car dealership to some 14,000 displaced people who settled on the expansive property. Seven months later, eager to rebuild his business, he paid the families $400 each to leave Camp Boulos and return to their devastated neighborhoods.
At the time, Dr. Boulos, a physician and business magnate, was much maligned for what was portrayed as bribing the homeless to participate in their own eviction. But eventually, desperate to rid public plazas of squalid camps, the Haitian government and the international authorities adopted his approach themselves: “return cash grants” have become the primary resettlement tool.
This represents a marked deflation of the lofty ambitions that followed the disaster, when the world aspired not only to repair Haiti but to remake it completely. The new pragmatism signals an acknowledgment that despite billions of dollars spent — and billions more allocated for Haiti but unspent — rebuilding has barely begun and 357,785 Haitians still languish in 496 tent camps.
“When you look at things, you say, ‘Hell, almost three years later, where is the reconstruction?’ ” said Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former prime minister of Haiti. “If you ask what went right and what went wrong, the answer is, most everything went wrong. There needs to be some accountability for all that money.”
Haitians have had a long and arduous struggle just to achieve the rights that most people in the rest of the hemisphere have enjoyed. From the revolution of Haitian slaves that won independence from the French in 1804, through the U.S. occupation (1915-1934), the Duvalier family dictatorship (1957-1986), and the last 20 years of devastating foreign intervention, the “international community” just hasn’t seen Haitians as having the same basic human rights as people in other countries.
They still don’t, perhaps because Haitians are too poor and black. While the horrific earthquake of January 2010 brought international sympathy and aid – much more pledged than delivered – it didn’t bring a change of attitude toward Haiti.