Jane Regan is a multimedia journalist and scholar who has worked in and on Haiti for almost three decades.
“Haiti is open for business.”
That’s what President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly said on November 28 at a ceremony inaugurating a giant industrial zone being built in the north of Haiti.
Across Haiti and abroad, Martelly, his government, and “advisors” like former President Bill Clinton have been pushing Haiti as a foreign investor’s dream come true.
“We are ready for new ideas and new businesses, and are creating the conditions necessary for Haiti to become a natural and attractive destination for foreign investment,” the new president said last fall in New York City.
“The window of opportunity is now,” an aide added. “Haiti has a new President and a new way of thinking about foreign investments and job creation.”
The president might be new, and there might be new actors on the scene, but there’s not much new about the plans. Once again, Haiti’s government and her private sector – and their international supervisors – are pitching sweatshop level salaries as a key “comparative advantage.”
Assembly factories and free trade zones have been part of Haiti’s “development” planning for decades. Now, armed with billions of dollars in grants, loans and private investment, Haitian and foreign governments and business people are building a whole slew of new factory zones as part of the country’s “reconstruction.”
Worse, they’ve chosen a piece of fertile farmland for the showcase project: a giant industrial park, heavily financed by US$124 million in US taxpayer dollars. Six months from now, South Korean textile giant Sae-A Trading will be opening its doors. Its plants will use a river that runs into the nearby fragile Caracol Bay as its waste waterway. And, in addition running the risk of harming the country’s already devastated environment, the new mega-factory will stitch millions of clothing articles for Wal-Mart, Target, GAP and other US retailers, meaning that more US workers will likely be knocked out of their jobs.
Not one major media outlet – in Haiti or abroad – has explored these and other factors of the what some have touted as a “win-win opportunity” for foreign investors and the Haitian people. Indeed, many journalists have been cheerleaders.
But the “new” Haiti as definite winners and losers.
Haiti Grassroots Watch spent months on an investigation, conducting over three dozen interviews, visiting factory zones and workers in the north and in the capital, and reviewing dozens of academic papers and reports, including one leaked from Haiti’s Ministry of the Environment.
Among the findings:
• Haitian workers earn less today than they did under the Duvalier dictatorship.
• Over one-half the average daily wage is used up lunch and by transportation to and from work.
• Haiti and its neighbors have all tried the “sweatshop-led” development model – and it has mostly not delivered on its promises.
• At least six Free Trade Zones or other industrial parts are in the works for Haiti.
• The new industrial park for the north does not come without costs and risks: Massive population influx, pressure on the water table, loss of agricultural land, and it’s being built steps from an area formerly slated to become a “marine protected area.”
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