Haiti Update: Grassroots Victory in Caracol

In the wake of the 2010 earthquake, international donors pledged billions of dollars to help Haiti “Build Back Better.”  Once the earthquake receded into the background, however, commitments made with much fanfare in front of the cameras, deteriorated quickly. Five years after the earthquake, the U.S. had delivered $3.1 of the $4 billion committed for relief and recovery work  –  though a large portion of this represents the cost of the U.S. military deployment in the days immediately following the quake.  USAID’s portion of funding was $657 million, a third or more of which went to build the Caracol Industrial Park in the North East department.

Caracol was a controversial project from the beginning – miles away from the disaster zone, the United States’ major funding initiative in Haiti was essentially going to be an export platform for clothing manufacture i.e., a park for sweatshops. And U.S. expertise was thus on full display: create a project that makes millions of dollars for a handful of investors off the blood, sweat, and tears of underpaid garment workers and call it “development.” If the envisioned end result was far from anything one might call “better,” the process through which the park was constructed might simply be considered another disaster visited upon the local community.

To build the park, land was taken from local farmers. Nearly 400 families were displaced – indeed, they were given only 5 days to vacate the land on which their families had lived for generations. Five years later, only 5 of these families had received credit for the purchase of new land. Caracol was to provide employment – but, as with sweatshops everywhere, the target workforce was women in their 20s and 30s, not middle-aged farmers. ActionAid, which has worked with the community throughout most of the process, provides more detail here.

After several years of unfulfilled promises, the families displaced by the park created the Kolektif Peyizan Viktim Tè Chabè to begin to fight for redess. The community worked with another local non-governmental organization, AREDE and with ActionAid and Accountability Counsel internationally to press funders to provide compensation. Last year, the Kolektif entered into formal arbitration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), another major funder of the park, and the government of Haiti through the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism. Last month the parties reached a settlement that may well provide a template for other community action seeking accountability.

The agreement is divided into two sections: Corrective Measures for the Restoration of Livelihoods and Measures Concerning the Environmental and Social Impacts of the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC). The agreement includes a commitment for one member of each family to find employment in the industrial park, the granting of access to land and technical support to families that have not secured land since the park opened, vocational training and access to microcredit programs for the creation of small businesses. A full description of the provisions of the agreement can be found here (per IDB rules, the full text of the agreement is not publically available).

The agreement represents a major victory for the community, though full implementation of its provisions is far from certain, and will require continued monitoring. That said, the community should have never been put in this position to begin with. The placement of the park on some of the most fertile land in northern Haiti, near important watersheds already suffering from pollution from the park, represents a model of development in which community stakeholders are shut out of planning, and environmental concerns are pushed to the back burner. Haiti has seen too much of this kind of development over the years.

True, the park has provided jobs and the generation facility for the park has provided electricity to nearby communities. But on balance, the process was a disaster for the community and one is left to wonder what $260+ million might have achieved if local people had been included in the process of visioning a new approach to development from the beginning. As we mark 9 years since the earthquake, that remains an important question.

 

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