Haiti: jobs missing at US-funded industrial park

Eleven months after it was officially opened, the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC) in Haiti’s Northeast department has failed to live up to the promises made by its promoters, according to an article by Jonathan Katz, a former Associated Press correspondent in Haiti. The project, for which the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB, or BID in Spanish) have set aside $270 million, has only generated 1,500 jobs to date, far short of the 65,000 jobs the US State Department claims will eventually appear in Caracol. Wages for piece-rate workers at the industrial park are based on a minimum wage of $4.56 a day, even though under a Haitian law that took effect last October their minimum wage should be about $6.85 a day.

The Haitian government took 600 hectares of land from 366 farmers for the park, with payments averaging about $3,200 for each farmer, but nearly 95% of the land is still unused. The Korean apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd remains the only major tenant at Caracol; there is one other tenant, a Haitian franchisee of Sherwin-Williams Paints that employs a few dozen workers. Other companies seem reluctant to invest, despite inducements like a 15-year tax holiday. A port that USAID is in charge of constructing to serve the facility “is barely in the planning stage,” Katz writes.

US officials said that building Caracol would help Haiti recover from the earthquake that devastated much of the southern part of the country in January 2010—even though the park is about 100 miles from the area hit by the quake. In fact, construction at the industrial park seems to be taking away funding from post-earthquake reconstruction: aid for rebuilding homes in the earthquake zone has been cut, while about two-thirds of the houses the US plans to build in Haiti will be near Caracol. While millions of dollars have gone into building the park, according to Katz “less than a third of the $651 million USAID said it would spend in Haiti [for earthquake aid] has been disbursed.” Katz notes that “the US is generally eager to finance” projects for “setting up a low-paying textile sector to cheaply stock US stores and closets,” in contrast to its approach to “other forms of development aid.” (Aljazeera America , Sept. 10)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 15.