“I don’t see a significance difference between this kind of development and the one we had in the ’70s,” he said. “They are using the same words that were used then: ‘We are going to create jobs; We are going to be the next Taiwan; We are going to export to the U.S.’ There were tax breaks and tariff breaks to export services. This is the same model. And I don’t see it giving fundamentally different results.”
At the center of the debate is the state-owned 600 acres where the park is being developed, and 357 Haitian farmers informally cultivated before it was donated by former President René Préval’s administration.
The farmers have since been compensated with either cash for their crops, relocation to another plot or enrollment in a training program to another kind of business, said Agustín Filippo, private sector development specialist for the Inter-American Development Bank.
Filippo and others note that surveys conducted as part of the IDB’s $3.5 million farmers’ compensation package showed that while the 123 acres farmers cultivated generated an estimated $50,000 in annual income, the same land in five years is expected to pay about $45 million in local workers’ salaries annually from Korean manufacturer Sae-A, the park’s largest employer.
For the IDB, which has partnered with the United States to develop the park, it’s not a question of emphasizing textiles over agriculture, spokesman Peter Bate said. The bank is spending more than $200 million in agriculture projects, including a recent grant of $15 million it provided to Haitian authorities to help modernize the sector, he said.
Cherly Mills, counselor and chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said tapping agriculture is an important part of the U.S.’s strategy in Haiti. It is investing about $300 million in the sector, including in the very areas where the industrial park is located.
“In the end, it’s going to require the [Haitian] government to ensure that the park and other investments in the region that they are guiding, adequately produce the long-term economic development and benefit for the entire region,” she said.
Mats Lundahl, a Sweden-based consultant and development-economics expert, said agriculture remains a hard sell in Haiti because of the erosion process caused by population pressure.
“The more people who enter the agricultural sector, the more severe the erosion,’’ he said. “You need to get people out of that sector so that it can be reformed: holdings that are large enough to sustain a family at a decent income level; tree crops instead of what you have now; and a [registry] to straighten out the land title issue. All this is very difficult, but sooner or later the issue must be faced.
“Textiles is admittedly a low-wage sector, but it is better to have a low-paid job than no job at all,” Lundahl added. “If you want state-led development you must have an honest, viable state, not one which is about to fail.”