Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Industrial Park the Answer for Haiti?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the opening of a much-vaunted US-funded industrial park in north Haiti, amid concerns that it could cause environmental damage without bringing lasting economic development.

The $300 million industrial park in the town of Caracol, on Haiti’s northern coast, was funded by the US government and the Inter-American Development Bank. It is meant to create some 65,000 new jobs for local people. Hillary Clinton said that the park represented a “new model for how the international community practices development,” working “with Haiti, not just in Haiti,” and investing in infrastructure and the economy.

President Michel Martelly joined in the celebratory rhetoric, declaring that “Haiti is open for business,” and pledging that his government would do anything it reasonably could to make things easier for investors in the country, as the BBC reports.

The Miami Herald reports that the park was planned under the administration of former President Rene Preval, who was also there at the ceremony and was publicly thanked by current President Michel Martelly. Former US President Bill Clinton, who serves as the UN’s special envoy to Haiti, was in attendance, along with various celebrities, including British entrepreneur Richard Branson and actor Sean Penn.

However, there are serious concerns about the park’s ability to create jobs and bring about a sustainable improvement to the local economy. In June, the Miami Herald reported from the construction site, saying that there was worry that the development would bring slums to the “bucolic but impoverished fishing village” of Caracol, as people in search of work flooded into the area. It said that the government, desperate to show progress, had signed off on the project without making preparations for its long-term development, like zoning plans or environmentla impact assessments. Some 300,000 people are expected to move to the area.

Meanwhile the New York Times reported in July on the 366 farmers who were evicted from their land in order for the park to be built, and on the park's possible threat to the fragile ecosystem of the bay, which has mangrove trees and a coral reef.

Academic Alex Dupuy told the Associated Press that "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." Korean clothing manufacturer Sae-A, the anchor tenant of the park, will pay workers $5 for eight hours of work. The NYT notes that Sae-A closed down a key factory in Guatemala last year over disputes with a labor union, and was accused of using violence and repressive tactics against unionists.

Hillary Clinton helped broker the Sae-A deal, which includes tax exemptions, and the AP notes that “The stakes are high in large part because the Clintons have been so heavily involved,” with Hillary’s chief of staff making near-monthly visits to the site.

News Briefs

  • Retired Colombian General Jorge Enrique Mora, who is on the government’s team for talks with the FARC rebels, has said that no cuts to the armed forces or their budget will be agreed during the negotiations. “The powerful army that Colombia has today will continue,” he declared, reports El Nuevo Herald. Colombia’s large military budget, and the exploitation of its natural resources by multinational corporations, were both criticized by the head of the FARC’s negotiation team, alias “Ivan Marquez,” in a press conference on Thursday. La Silla Vacia has a map of the FARC’s illicit mining interests, and notes that this is thought to make up 20 percent of their income, and could become more important to the rebels than drug trafficking.
  • Also in Colombia, Vice President Angelino Garzon has announced that he is suffering from prostate cancer, and said that he would not “cling” to his job, reports the Miami Herald. The news comes weeks after President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had prostate cancer, and months after Garzon suffered a stroke.
  • The Center for Economic and Policy Research has a sarcastic take on the US media’s response to the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision that the “model cities” project was unconstitutional, noting that “apparently the Honduran constitution and Honduras’ post-coup institutions are not as freedom-loving as they seemed during the military coup.” Honduras Culture and Politics has more on MGK Group, the company which was set to invest in the project, saying “It is not a fully formed business entity, but rather is said to be part of a newly formed Nevada limited partnership that is not fully set up under the laws of Nevada.”
  • Venezuelan authorities shut down a prison in the west of the country, transferring the inmates to other facilities, and found some 56 guns and more than 11,000 rounds of ammunition inside, reports the AP. Prison Minister Iris Varela declared that the operation had been a success, and said the government had “made history” by shutting down Coro -- two dead bodies were found in the prison on Thursday, one of which had died 48 hours before, reports Noticias 24.
  • A free trade agreement between the US and Panama is set to go into effect on October 31, reports the Miami Herald, meaning that more than 86 percent of US products will enter the country tariff-free.
  • The Mexican government has extracted tissue samples from the exhumed corpse of the father of Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano, reports Milenio. The drug lord was allegedly killed by the Mexican Navy earlier this month, but the body was stolen before the authorities had realized his identity, and they are now trying to prove that it was indeed him by comparing DNA samples with those of Lazcano’s dead relatives.
  • Guatemala and Belize have called for support from the international community to help them solve a long-running territorial dispute over the location of their land border, reports elPeriodico.
  • The Economist looks at ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s campaign to be pardoned and released from prison, where he is serving a sentence for creating a death squad. The newspaper notes that the decision will be a politically costly one for President Ollanta Humala. Some 70 percent of the public support either giving the cancer-stricken ex-leader a pardon, or placing him under house arrest.
  • The NYT’s Taking Notes blog says that Mitt Romney’s Spanish language campaign ads mislead viewers about the candidate’s position on migrant issues, such as the fact that he had promised to veto the federal Dream Act.
  • IPS looks at the gang truce in El Salvador, and says that more should be done to stop young people joining gangs, in order to make its gains sustainable.
  • The LA Times reports that evangelical churches in Brazil are “rewriting the rules of politics” with their growing political muscle, and pushing a conservative agenda.

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