In Haiti’s underdeveloped northeast, a new $300 million industrial park, which was partially funded by the U.S. government, has been opened with the aim of creating thousands of jobs, attracting foreign investment and helping the impoverished country to recover from the devastating impact of the 2010 earthquake.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who is also the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, joined Haiti's President Michel Martelly at the opening ceremony for the park in the fishing village of Caracol on the north coast.
“We had learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid,” Secretary Clinton told a group of investors at a luncheon following the event, the Associated Press reported.
“It required investments in infrastructure and the economy that would help the Haitian people achieve their own dreams. So we shifted our assistance to investments to address some of the biggest challenges facing this country: creating jobs and sustainable economic growth.”
The Caracol Industrial Park is expected to create around 40,000 jobs in an area where subsistence farming and fishing are the only economic options available aside from migrating to more developed parts of the country, though many of those areas in the south were damaged by the 2010 earthquake.
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The capital of Port-au-Prince was hit the hardest by the magnitude 7.0 quake, and more than 350,000 people are still living in tents and temporary shelters on the outskirts of the city. Furthermore, a cholera epidemic claimed over 7,000 lives in the aftermath of that disaster.
Indeed, the jobs are sorely needed in a country where unemployment was last recorded at more than 40 percent in 2010 and where a vast majority of the people live below the poverty line.
South Korean garment company Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd has agreed to create 20,000 permanent jobs over the next six years and build 5,000 homes nearby for its workers, the BBC reported.
Sae-A has already hired and trained 1,000 workers and has made its first shipment of 67,000 garments to be sold at Wal-Mart stores, Sec. Clinton said.
Daniel Cho, a spokesman for Sae-A in Haiti, told the AP that the workers were being paid around $5 per day for eight hours of work.
Critics argue that the low wages and corporate tax rates will be more beneficial to foreign businesses and investors than the Haitian people.
“This is not a strategy that is meant to provide Haiti with any measure of sustainable development. ... The only reason those industries come to Haiti is because the country has the lowest wages in the region,” Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, told the AP.
Sec. Clinton acknowledged that the project was not “perfect.”
“What development project anywhere in the world is? And there will be frustration from time to time,” she said at the opening ceremony.
“But for all of the inevitable challenges, today and the development here represents a new opportunity for Haiti.”
In addition to the $124 million the U.S. government has invested in the project, it has built a 10 million-megawatt thermal plant which Sec. Clinton said would eventually provide 100,000 people in the region with access to electricity for the first time, adding that only 12 percent of the population of 10 million currently has such access.
She also mentioned that the construction of a new container port was in the planning stages.
While the U.S. government has made a significant investment in the project, Sec. Clinton emphasized that it would ultimately be up to the Haitian government to sustain and expand it, while providing more support and services for its people and an attractive environment for investment.
“In addition to effective government, Haiti needs a strong justice sector, free and fair elections, housing, energy, schools, health care -- all of which will serve the people of Haiti, but also attract even more investment,” she said.