CARACOL, Haiti -- Braving the heat, Fanilia Prospère took a break from pushing her wheelbarrow of imported used clothing to look around. Then she smiled.
In Haiti, where so many promises of change turn to dust, the evolving landscape was worth the moment of contemplation: warehouse-sized factory shells rising from fertile soil, bulldozers rumbling distantly as they cleared farmland to build hundreds of homes and unemployed young men chattering under a mango tree about the change that was coming to Caracol.
“Caracol is getting another image,” said Prospère, 30, a mother of three. “There are a lot of people who weren’t working, but they are now working. And a lot of people who want to work and who I believe will be soon working.”
For the bucolic but impoverished fishing village on Haiti’s northern coast, the sight of foreign dollars creating new housing and jobs is filled with hope — and worry that the multi-million dollar investments also will spawn the all-too-familiar slums.
“It is almost certain,” said Jilson St. Tilien, as he watched a game of dominoes under the tree. “People need to make a living and they will move here to do so.”
Desperate for any good news after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the Haitian government signed off on the 600-acre industrial park in this remote rural village without preparing for how the region should eventually look — or absorb the promised jobs. Only now is a zoning plan being developed, but residents and Haiti watchers wonder if it’s coming too late.
Their anxiety is fueled by Haiti’s historically weak institutions and the rush by the international community and Haiti’s leaders to show progress. It is also a reflection of the challenges of working in Haiti where there is continuous friction between need-to-spend foreign aid agencies, which are often perceived as arrogant, and a weak central government.
As a result, Haiti analysts say, projects are often haphazardly started with too little preliminary planning, lopsided consultation and inadequate environmental impact studies.
“The international community has been under immense pressure to show movement and this is the closest they’ve come to have something significantly positive to say about Haiti, investments and jobs,” said Carlo Dade, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies. “But on the other hand, this is really one case where there is no excuse for not getting it done right.”
From the start, U.S. and Haitian officials have heaped billboards of praise on the $300 million investment. But it quickly became a target of criticism.
While supporters tout the park and its amenities as a steel and concrete example of rebuilding Haiti after the quake, agriculturalists and environmentalists criticized its location on prime arable land at the mouth of an already endangered marine and mangrove-forest ecosystem.
Others worry that while the park’s job-creation benefits may help to depopulate Haiti’s teeming capital city 82 miles away, it risks replicating the very social and political ills that have plagued sprawling slums like Cité Soleil.
“When you look at the social problems that Cité Soleil poses today, you have to ask, did it have to be that way?” said Michèle Oriol, executive secretary of Haiti’s Inter-ministerial Commission on Territorial Planning, which has objected to the park’s location, and that of a U.S.-financed housing development just off the main commercial corridor.