“The North-Northeast region is today enjoying a concentration of investments. That is a big deal in Haiti,” she said. “But there is a price to be paid. There are a series of measures that need to be taken.”
The U.S. government and Inter-American Development Bank, which are jointly funding the industrial park’s development, say while it is the most visible symbol of post-quake progress, it is only part of the investment that donors are pouring into the northern corridor to spur economic growth. About $1 billion is being invested in agriculture, electricity, health, housing, roads and schools.
“We heard the government after the earthquake when they said, ‘We want to create other regions where people have reasons to stay, and livelihoods that they can pursue.’ Our investments in the north were designed to meet that goal,” said Cheryl Mills, counselor and chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has held town hall meetings in Haiti about the park. “This is really for us an opportunity to bring the one thing that people have said most intensively that they need and want. They want jobs.”
Scholar Alex Dupuy, who has written extensively about the failures of Haiti’s cut-and-sew economy, says while the current push to revive Haiti’s garment assembly industry may come with what he calls “side benefits” — roads, port upgrades and a new $45 million power plant, to name a few — the strategy “has absolutely nothing to do with creating a sustainable growth economy in Haiti.”
“It’s about tapping a source of cheap labor,” said Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociology professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “They did the same thing in Port-au-Prince, which had people leaving the countryside because of the free-trade policies that have devastated the Haitian agriculture sector. So the fear that the region will be flooded is very real.”
Late last year, President Michel Martelly, who inherited the project from the previous administration, agreed to ask the American Institute of Architects to work with the eight local communities affected by the planned development to create a regional master plan.
The plan takes into account not just the park and its 65,000 projected jobs but 5,000 proposed USAID and IDB-financed homes for the corridor; a recently built private high school; and yet-to-open Dominican Republic-financed university in the nearby town of Limonade. Also part of the mix is the potential impact of U.S.-financed regional hospitals’ upgrades, construction of roads and a new seaport in nearby Fort Liberté. A planned Venezuela-financed upgrade to the Cap-Haitien airport is also being considered.
Erica Gees, executive director of AIA’s nonprofit arm, said up to 35 planners and designers have been working on the regional plan, which will need to be adopted by all affected communities. Among the recommendations that will be presented in late June, Gees said, will be infrastructure upgrades in existing communities to absorb the growth. The park is expected to attract up to 300,000 new residents, or five people for every one worker hired. With town populations currently ranging between 1,500 and 25,000 residents, Gees said, residents’ fears are real and legitimate.