Is the Caracol Industrial Park Worth the Risk?

By Haiti Grassroots Watch (Haiti Liberte)

Last October, officials from the
Haitian government and a number of foreign governments and institutions, who
call themselves“friends of Haiti,” saw their dream become a reality. Finally,
there was earthquake reconstruction progress worth celebrating with the
inauguration of the giant Caracol Industrial Park (PIC), which, according to
its backers, will someday host 20,000 or maybe even 65,000 jobs.

            President Michel Martelly was there,
as were Haitian and foreign diplomats, the Clinton power couple, millionaires
and actors, all present to celebrate the government’s clarion call: “Haiti is
open for business.”*
            “We supported the Caracol Park
because we knew it was going to be an extraordinary thing for the north,”
then-Social Affairs Minister Josépha Raymond Gauthier told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW). “The park will allow us to
‘decentralize’ the country and create a northern ‘pole.’ It will also give
people jobs in an extraordinary way!”
            But a two-month investigation by HGW
discovered that the number of jobs in the north is not yet “extraordinary,” and
that many other promises have not yet been kept.
            One year after it started
operations, only 1,388 people work in the park; 26 of them are foreigners, and
another 24 are security guards. Also, HGW research among a sampling of workers
found that, at the end of the day, most have only 57 gourdes, or US$1.36, in
hand after paying for transportation and food out of their 200 gourdes minimum
wage (US$4.75) salary.
            HGW also learned that most of the
farmers kicked off the land to make way for the industrial park are still
without land.
            “Before, Caracol was the breadbasket
of the Northeast department,” said Breüs Wilcien, one of the farmers expelled
from the 250-hectare zone. “Right now there is a shortage of some products in
the local markets. We are just sitting here in misery.”
            Another farmer, Waldins Paul, a
member of the Association of Caracol Workers, explained: “In my opinion, [the
PIC] has its advantages and its disadvantages… The good part is that there are
a lot of people who before didn’t have anything to do, who just sat around
yawning. But now they see they aren’t getting that much for working, since 200
gourdes (about US$4.75) can’t do anything for anyone. What’s worse, it has
impoverished the breadbasket of Haiti’s North and Northeast departments.”
            The PIC
was put together by the U.S. and Haitian governments with help from the
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). It cost, for the first phase, at least
US$250 million. Almost half, about US$120 million, came from U.S. citizens.
Since then, more money has been spent on studies, roads, and on paying off the
farmers expelled from their lands. [See “Caracol
By The Numbers”
The January 2010 earthquake forcefully dislocated 1.3
million people in Léogâne and the capital. But those weren’t the only regions
that saw dislocation. The PIC also forcefully expelled people: the 366 families
who were farming 250 hectares of fertile land. [See “Haiti:
Open for Business”
to learn more about the choice of Caracol for the park.]
The Chabert plantation assured the survival of about 2,500 people in those
families, as well as 750 agricultural workers who toiled for at least 100 days
per year each year on the plots.
Haitian government requisitioned the land in November 2011, covered it with
asphalt and fill, and put up giant hangers for the factories. The Technical and
Execution Unit (Unité Technique
– UTE), an agency of the Finance Ministry, has been charged
with the task of relocating of the farmers, and also with paying them damages
to cover the cost of every harvest lost until they receive new lands.
to the UTE, each farmer is getting US$1,450 per hectare to make up for the lost
cash revenue, as well as an additional US$1,000 per hectare to account for the
food that the family would have eaten from its own plot(s). (HGW could not
determine if the agricultural workers also received payments.)
            In January
2013, the UTE told HGW that the state had paid out to the farmers on two
occasions, because the farmers had lost two harvests thus far.
addition to the money spent to reimburse the farmers – a total of about US$1.2
million, Haiti has also twice lost 1,400 metric tons (MT) of agricultural
products, or 2,800 MT of food produced in Haiti for Haitian consumption. It
takes over 100,000 bushels of dried beans to make up 2,800 MT. Finally, the UTE
itself has an operating budget of about US$1 million. [See Caracol By The Numbers]
Davilmar will be getting 35,000 gourdes, or about US$833, for the most recent
harvest lost. Before, he worked a half-hectare of land, growing yams, manioc
and spinach. No longer. No land. He sits at home. A family of 10.
            “What they
gave me is gone in a flash,” he told HGW. “There’s no other revenue. You don’t
have any land so you have to make do with nothing.”
Director Michael Delandsheer told HGW that his team has almost found a
solution. The farmers will eventually get plots nearby, in Glaudine.
            “Our first
priority is to give the farmers land so they can work,” Delandsheer
explained.  “But even then, once they
have land, we aren’t finished. We are going to make sure they get official
leases to their land from the tax office, and we are going to accompany them
throughout the process. Even then, our work isn’t done. We want to continue to
accompany them, to help them improve their productivity.”
almost two years of promises, the Caracol farmers remain skeptical. Some of the
farmers in the Ouanaminthe area, home to the CODEVI industrial park, never got
lands they were promised after being displaced almost a decade ago.
farmers were also allegedly promised jobs. “They said our family would be able
to work [at the PIC], but so far we haven’t gotten any job offers,” Davilmar
assistant mayor of Caracol is also disappointed. At the beginning, Vilsaint
Joseph was not completely supportive of the park, but he kept an open mind, he
said. And he is happy that the commune now has electricity, thanks to the power
plant built by the U.S.. But people in Caracol haven’t gotten jobs.
            “There are
people who are about 32 years old, who went and got training, but they didn’t
get a job because of the flood of young people in their twenties,” the mayor
lamented. “I think that isn’t right. People spent three months getting trained
up but then were told – ‘no work for you.’”
decline in regional agricultural production is also a worry, he said, because
before, “come harvest time, there would be truckloads of corn and beans for
            Of a dozen
farming families questioned by HGW, all of them said the payments were
insufficient. Some said they could not afford to send all of their children to
            “We are
thinking of organizing a sit-in to demand that the authorities give us land so
we can work,” Breüs Wilcien told HGW during a recent telephone interview.
got 42,000 gourdes (US$1,000) but he said he can’t pay for his children’s
            “My entire
household is suffering,” he said. “Before, we always had our manioc field. When
things were going badly, we went out there and pulled some up to make sweet
bread or to just eat as is. We are really suffering these days.”
The “winners”
If the farmers and their families can be considered as
“losers,” at least for the moment, the government and its partners say that
those who got jobs are “winners” because they have employment. All of the
documents concerning Haiti’s reconstruction talk about the need to “create”
jobs and in this regard, the PIC is held up as the biggest “success” thus far.
interviewed 15 workers, men and women, employed at the South Korean factory
employing most of the PIC’s workers. This assembly factory – S & H Global –
is a subsidiary of SAE-A Trading. It puts together clothing for some of the
biggest U.S.-based companies, including JC Penny and WalMart.
            All of the
workers – most of them women, as in assembly factories the world over –
confirmed that they received the minimum wage of 200 gourdes (US$4.75) per day.
Among the workers questioned, 11 said that they spent on average 61 gourdes on
transportation each day, and another 82 gourdes on the midday meal and a drink.
That left only 57 gourdes or about US$1.36, for all the additional expenses:
water, electricity, food for the family, clothing, school fees, etc. [See “Haiti:
Open for Business”
            “I can’t live on this salary. It
doesn’t do anything for me,” Annette** told HGW.
            Before the
PIC, this mother of 10 worked at the CODEVI industrial park in Ouanaminthe. She
lives near the border town and gets up early every day to come to the PIC.
Annette left her job for the new position in the hope that conditions would be
better, she said. She was wrong.
            “What I
found is not worth if,” she explained, but she doesn’t know what else to do.
Annette is in the same position as the thousands of Haitians who agree to work
for a 200-gourde daily salary.
Frédérick Gérald Chéry believes that the Haitian government has a flawed
approach to the minimum wage question, and that it has made a huge error in
focusing on assembly factories where workers rarely earn more than that. In
addition to not providing enough income for even a basic existence, the State
University professor notes that a 200-gourde salary cannot contribute to the
growth of other sectors of Haiti’s economy.
            “You have
to calculate what a worker earns and then what he can buy with that money,”
Chéry told HGW during a November 2012 interview. “What he can buy is the most
important factor. You should not set the minimum wage according to absolute
terms, but in terms of the basic necessities. You should not encourage a worker
to buy rice that comes from the U.S. or the Dominican Republic. A minimum wage
should be able to buy local products.”
for a bus to go back home to Cap Haïtien, Flora* was overjoyed to talk to a
journalist, despite clearly being exhausted.
            “God sent
you,” she said. “I have been needing a journalist to talk about what we are
putting up with in the park. They yell at us as if we were animals. The food they
prepare is bad. There is only warm water to drink. Sometimes I’ve had to work
all day without a face-mask. Dust fills my nose.”
workers’ comments were backed up by a recent report from “Better Work,”
an agency of the UN’s International Labor Organization, which found that half
of the 22 assembly factories in the capital region were “in non-compliance” as
far as working conditions were concerned, and that 16 of them did not have an
“acceptable” temperature.
about salaries and working conditions at its Caracol factory, a representative
of SAE-A contacted via email said the company respected all aspects of Haitian
law. However, when HGW asked to visit the factory in order to see the working
conditions, the request was denied. More recently, a union organizer also asked
to visit the factory in order to see working conditions. That request was also
investigation revealed that of the 15 S & H Global workers questioned, 80%
said they felt the salary level vs. the amount worked did not make sense.
            “It’s not
worth it!” Adeline* said. “The supervisors don’t respect us. They don’t see us
as human beings. They hit us with pieces of cloth.”
            Formerly a
merchant, Adeline said she wants to go back to her old profession rather than
continue to suffer.
former Social Affairs Minister told HGW that she realizes the minimum wage
offers a low salary. But she immediately echoed the same justifications that
all the factory owners and managers repeat.
working in an assembly industry [factory] isn’t going to get rich overnight,”
ex-Minister Josépha Raymond Gauthier said in a November 2012 interview. “But
someone who has no job at all has no hope.”
Caracol mayor told HGW that he felt the same way last year. Now that he knows
more about what he called “unacceptable” conditions and the low salary, he has
changed his mind. The jobs are nothing short of “humiliation,” Vilsaint Joseph
Haitian government has said that eventually it will provide free bus
transportation to workers and has also promised that some of them will receive
housing with subsidized mortgages. Part of the US$120 million pledged by the
U.S. government is for a US$31 million development of 1,500 small homes called
“EKAM” and located near the PIC. According to U.S. and IDB documents, the
houses – costing US$23,510 each will
be for workers as well as displaced Caracol families considered “vulnerable”
because they are headed by a woman or an elderly person.
because only 750 are funded at the moment, relatively few will benefit. [See
also Caracol by the Numbers]
Worth the risk?
In all, for the installation of the park, the power
station, EKAM, the payments to the farmers, and other expenses, the U.S.
government, the IDB and the Haitian government have spent over US$250 million.
But even with that investment, the eventual benefits to Haiti and to the
Haitian state are not guaranteed.
            All of the
companies that set up shop in the PIC will get various tax breaks, meaning that
little money will end up in the state coffers. Until the year 2020, the
clothing assembly companies, like S & H Global, have additional privileges
thanks to the U.S. “HELP” (Haiti Economic Lift Program) law. [See Haiti:
Open for Business
            S & H
Global does employ 1,388 people and has promised to employ another 1,300 by the
end of the year. In addition, SAE-A is building a school and will subsidize its
            But to
establish those jobs, SAE-A closed down a Guatemala factory, throwing 1,200
workers on the street. The company left Guatemala for Haiti because of Haiti’s
low salaries and because of the HELP law, according to Prensa
. Once the HELP advantages expire in seven years, will SAE-A also
leave Haiti?
            Even with
these meager results, the Haitian government and other actors say the PIC is a
good “bet.” In one document, the IDB promises
that it will set Haiti on “the path of economic growth.”
to the New York Times
in 2012,
the IDB’s country manager José Agustín Aguerre recognized that “[c]reating an
exclusively garment maquiladora zone is something everyone — I wouldn’t say
tries to avoid, but considers a last resort.” Still, he said, the PIC is “a
good opportunity” even though the salaries are “low” and the jobs “unstable.”
maybe tomorrow there will a better opportunity for firms elsewhere and they
will just leave,” Aguerre added. “But everyone thought this was a risk worth
Frédérick Gérald Chéry has a completely different analysis. Chéry notes that
rushing to set up assembly industries, without a global plan, and without a
national debate, is an error.
than seeing the textile industry as a temporary thing, they see it as a
contributing sector to our economy, and it cannot be that, because the salaries
are too low and because we don’t produce any of the inputs,” Chéry told HGW.
“We don’t produce the cloth, we don’t do the design, and we don’t have an
‘economy of scale.’ I predict a catastrophe if we stay on this path.”
            Also, the
economist noted, prioritizing the PIC over agricultural production is very
worrying. “If we don’t develop our agriculture in parallel with the clothing
assembly industry, the farmers will be the losers,” he said.
Caracol Industrial Park is not the first big project full of promises to set up
shop in Haiti’s north. In 1927, U.S. capitalists established the Dauphin
Plantation to grow sisal for the international market. By World War II, the
plantation had taken over 10,000 hectares of land and was the biggest employer
in the country. But tens of thousands of farmers lost their land to make way
for the monoculture, and the entire region became dependent on the industry.
            After the
war and the invention of nylon, sisal’s price plummeted. The investors pulled
out and eventually – in the 1980s – the plantation closed, bankrupt. Its traces
can be seen today: ruined buildings and land made less fertile by years of
sisal plants.
            One of the
Caracol farmers remembered the plantation. He knows what happened when the
industry closed down. “Today, if you go visit Derac, Collette, and Phaeton, you’ll
see,” he said. “If it weren’t for the UN blue helmets and the World Food
Organization, those people would have died of hunger by now.”
*  Reporters from
Haiti Grassroots Watch and many other media were denied access because they
were not on a list compiled by a private media consulting group called Wellcom
Haiti, located in the capital.
** This is a fictional name. HGW decided to conceal the
identity of the workers in order to protect them from repercussions.
Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication
(SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community
radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media, and students
from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.
…steam rollers
clear road into the 600 acre industrial park.
 Photo: USAID
Farmer Alfred
Joseph, 52, lost the land he had farmed for decades. “What little land I
had is now covered with cement. What is an old person supposed to do?”
Photo: Lafontaine
A Haitian
fisherman on Caracol Bay. Fishing employs many in the region. The IDB has
promised to help Caracol’s fishermen with new engines and other aid.
Photo: Lafontaine
Caracol By the Numbers
by Haiti Grassroots Watch
Approximate cost to launch the PIC: over US$250 million
Source of the financing – US government: US$124 million; Inter-American
Development Bank: US$55 million,
SAE-A (S. Korean textile company): US$78
Number of eventual jobs at the PIC, according to different actors:
37,000 or 40,000 or 65,000
Number of jobs at the PIC in January 2013, including the 24
security guards: 1,388
Number of farmers kicked off 250 hectares (the Chabert
plantation and other lands) in order to make way for the PIC: 366 families
Amount of agricultural products (corn, manioc, plantains,
black beans) formerly grown on those 250 hectares: 1,400 metric tons each harvest
Monetary value of those products: US$807,638 (each harvest)
Approximate cost of indemnifying and eventually relocating
the farmers: more than US$4.6 million
Amount of money paid, per hectare, for each lost harvest: US$2,450
Average amount of land formerly farmed by each of the 366
families: 0.68 hectares
Amount of money received by each farmer for each lost
harvest, on average: US$1,666
Number of new homes promised for the region from various
actors: “up to 5,000”
Number of new homes under construction (January 2013) at
the EKAM site, financed by the US government: 750
Amount of money spent by the US government to prepare the
EKAM site, which will eventually have 1,500 small houses, schools, and other
infrastructure: US$13,724,975 or about $9,000 for each eventual home
Amount of money committed to the US firm Thor Construction
for 750 small houses: $17,632,839 or
US$23,510 for each small house
Sources: UTE, BID, US government documents, including