“You have a very solid existing social structure. People know each other; they have been farming the same land for generations. There is a real sense of security,” she said. “You want to enhance that by integrating newcomers into each town in a more organic process. By combining urban upgrades and expansion with strategic placement of services and public space, you can ease the impact of rapid growth.”
Oriol’s agency had made similar recommendations in order to help reduce possible conflict with residents and prevent the main commercial corridor from being blocked should unrest occur. Her group was asked by former Prime Minister Garry Conille to intervene after regional parliamentarians, complaining they had been left out of the loop amid meetings between U.S. officials and local mayors, objected to the location and size of the U.S.-planned houses near the main access road.
Conille put the housing on a permanent hold, but Martelly, who didn’t want to delay the housing construction, overruled him.
The U.S. has since modified the housing scheme, increasing the sizes of the houses slightly and pushed the development further off of the street to allow for future expansion of the road. But lawmakers like Pierrogene Davilmar remain unhappy.
“We know the country,” he said, adding that the current location will still wreak havoc and the overall project has been too piecemeal. “These things require a minimum amount of planning.”
One thing that has been well-planned is the engineering of the actual industrial park on former farmland.
Last month, as the first four hurricane and seismic-resistant buildings were completed, hundreds of Haitians were inside laying electricity cables, unpacking boxes and assembling chairs and work stations. All four buildings belong to Korean garment manufacturer Sae-A, a major supplier of U.S. retailers. As the park’s anchor tenant, Sae-A will create 20,000 jobs over four years, and occupy 23 custom buildings, including 12 factories of 120,000 square feet each. Value of Sae-A’s Haiti investment: $74 million.
Among the park’s highlights: the best drainage system in Haiti with man-made lagoons to control flooding; landscaping and paved roads; a police station, clinic, customs office and power station with fossil fuel and solar power; a 46-room wired executive hotel with another one being planned; and a $14 million water treatment facility. Sae-A plans to open Haiti’s first textile fabric mill, which has raised concerns among environmentalists. They point out that an IDB consultant’s report noted there wasn’t enough time to evaluate the potential impact of the garment dyeing on the nearby ecosystem. U.S. officials say the park will meet international standards, and the treated water will be cleaner than the soiled water currently flowing into a nearby river.
“No matter the drawbacks, Caracol, however you look at it, is more than a positive step,” said businessman Rudolph Boulos, a former senator for the northeast region. “The fact that the people have less and less to do — no agriculture, no work. Even with the sea next door, Caracol has become a brothel of the North and Northeast.”
Still, residents have mixed feelings about the coming transformation of this historical region, which gave birth to the country.
“When you aren’t working, you have no other choice but to take what you can,” said Estefan Paul, taking a break from his $5-a-day manual labor job inside one of the new factories.
“The local authorities, they don’t speak up for you. Whatever the foreigners say they are going to do, they accept.”
Haiti Commerce Minister Wilson Laleau said he understands the concerns. But Haiti, he said, has to start somewhere to create jobs.
“The industrial park is not a solution that will resolve all of the problems,” he said. “But it is one of the mechanisms that will help us to find a solution to have money circulated in the region, and that will allow for other activities like tourism and agriculture to develop so that we can develop a middle class. A lot of countries have taken this route.’’