Caracol Free-Trade Zone Jeopardizes Natural and Cultural Heritage


Economic choices that would steer toward environmental destruction

English | French

Editorial comment

This excellent article provides a comprehensive view of the adverse impacts of the industrial parc project in Caracol Bay.

It is difficult to believe in the good will of anyone associated with this project. The Koios report, although it contains some truths for the sake of credibility, is an extremely biased study, since Koios picked the site in the first place, and the study was commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), one of the project’s main financiers.

This is one of a long line of studies (for the IDB, World Bank, USAID, etc.) whose true purpose is to assess a project’s impact so that the maximum damage might be inflicted. In this case, all outcomes serve to maximize labor for the sweatshops.

  • Over one thousand small farmers have already been dispossessed. The aim is to turn them, their families, and their neighbors into the cheapest possible labor for the sweatshops.
  • Natural and archaeological sites will be destroyed so that a possible source of tourism revenue is made to vanish.
  • Water will be appropriated, polluted and made more expensive in a country that is suffering from a shortage of potable water and a cholera epidemic. And why? So that workers will have to work harder to buy water.
  • Subsidized U.S. food will be sold so that whatever remains of the country’s agricultural production will be destroyed and workers will be forced to work day and night to buy food.

Yes. The stated plan is to keep those sewing machines humming 24 hours a day.

Apart from being historically and archaeologically important, the site that is slated for destruction is a place of breathtaking beauty and part of a natural ecosystem that is unique to Haiti. Not only Haitians, but also the whole world would be impoverished. Everyone should take notice of this potential loss and do all within their power to stop it.

By Dady Chery, Editor
Haiti Chery

By Rachelle Charlier Doucet [1]

English | French

Translated from the French by Dady Chery, Haiti Chery

In this article, we aim to address the need to articulate the economic choices by Haiti together with the necessity to protect the natural and cultural environments of the country, with a view to respecting the rights of Haitian workers as well as the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of the population as a whole.

The industrial parc is sited between Chambert and Caracol.

We will examine the specific case of the proposed industrial park at Caracol (Northeast).

Without disregarding this project’s impact on the creation of much-needed jobs in Haiti, we wish to point out the risks associated with the implementation of this park, the hazards to the environment in general and the marine ecosystem Caracol Bay in particular.

These dangers also include the cultural heritage and tourism potential of the North and Northeast Departments.

Once again the biologist and professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles (U.S.) Jared Diamond is right.

Diamond studies the crucial problem of “sustainable development and ecological sustainability” through the ages and tries to understand the mechanisms by which human societies steer to a path of self-destruction in the short, medium and long term.

His thesis, developed in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, is a simple one: there are those who chose to fail and others who chose to succeed.

The former exhausted their natural resources and were unable to recognize the moments when changes had become necessary to their survival.

The latter, by contrast, managed to overthrow their cultural paradigms, shake up their comfortable routine and take bold steps that ensured their welfare.

Five (5) main factors form the bases of these “choices” and they are both external and internal.

It is important to remember that the collective behavior analyzed by Diamond concerned the relationships established between the needs of the social group, its values, community resources, and the vision of its leaders.

For Diamond, a group as a whole can make bad decisions based on the wrong decisions of individuals.

Diamond illustrates his thesis with the examples of past civilizations and also of contemporary societies.

The most telling past example is perhaps that of Easter Island (Pacific).

This once thriving society, living in lush vegetation, declined slowly but inexorably because political and social concerns took precedence over the preservation of the environment, says Diamond.

The first Polynesians of the island kept cutting right up to their last tree to erect statues to their gods, one remembers.

The ensuing deforestation, predictable for the long-term, but invisible from within and in the short term, was attained in several centuries: desertification and extinction of the human group happened on the island.

In contemporary societies, Diamond compares the Dominican Republic with Haiti. You may guess in what respective categories – success or failure – he put our two countries!

Haiti is the bad example not to be followed, and he issues a strong warning:

“the greatest threat to the world today is that conditions like those in Haiti are spreading throughout the Third World” (Diamond 2005: 499).

One can certainly criticize Diamond for some ecological determinism and a view of Haiti sometimes superficial and wrong, nevertheless there are some salutary lessons to be learned from his ideas.

If his comparison of Haiti to the Dominican Republic is instructive, it is even more productive for us Haitians today to compare our environmental behavior with that of the Polynesians of Easter Island.

To confine ourselves to the recent past: the devastation caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 and hurricanes Faye, Gustav, Hanna and Ike in 2008 should concern us.

The earthquake of January 12, 2010 put us face to face with our vulnerability.

Have we learned the requisite lessons? Will we finally recognize that it is time to act and change our behavior?

“By rushing merrily in the construction of an industrial park at Caracol, are we not deliberately cutting one of our last trees?”

A short term solution that would jeopardize the future

The creation of the industrial park promises 20,000 jobs initially, and up to 60,000 to 80,000 in four to five years.

On the other hand, the park will be attractive only if Haiti manages to maintain its “comparative advantage,” based on a labor-intensive but unskilled force to whom low wages are offered. [2]

As the report points out, this “advantage” is volatile,

“as a country where labor costs are low, Haiti can currently compete in the low-end market, but this situation is unlikely to persist indefinitely. Indeed, costs in several other countries are already competitive with those in Haiti. “

We should carefully consider our economic choices and take a holistic approach.

We know what it means to want to transform Haitian farmers to factory workers in subcontracting, without weighing the consequences of the approach in a global perspective.

Martelly declaring Haiti to be “open for business” at the Nov 28, 2011 inauguration (Photo: Martelly Facebook page).

We experimented with the “economic revolution” of Jean-Claude Duvalier and his project of turning Haiti into the “Taiwan in the Caribbean.”

Since the late 1980′s, we accelerated the destruction of our national agricultural production “to feed the people on the cheap” by importing U.S. rice, and we left the Haitian countryside lie fallow. U.S. President William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton has publicly acknowledged the negative impacts of his economic choices for Haiti based on erroneous neoliberal premises.

The creation of the park of the national industrial parks (SONAPI) in Port-au-Prince and bantustanization that ensued still affect the entire metropolitan area of ​​the capital.

On the environmental side we have watched – helpless or reckless – the deterioration, before our eyes, of one of the most beautiful bays in the world (the third most beautiful, they said, after Rio and Naples) with its surrounding mountains and valuable watersheds that fed sources now polluted and slow in flow.

Port-au-Prince could have been the most beautiful capital in the Caribbean. Today Port-au-Trash, she suffers the consequences of our inconsistencies.

The recent example of the company for industrial development (CODEVI) in Ouanaminthe (Northeast) is also telling.

The job creations promised by the industrial park of Caracol are not without risk, as revealed by authoritative reports commissioned by the Ministry of Finance and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and published in May 2011 [3].

The hazards identified by the Koios report are numerous and serious. Here are a few.

  • We must first make a clearing for the park, sited on the most arable lands and best irrigated areas, and relocate 1,000 farmers and their families [4].
  • This park will put great pressure on social and urban infrastructures and provoke the migration of an estimated 30,000 to 300,000 people. It will thus have an enormous demographic impact on available resources.
  • Manufacturing and textile dyeing alone will require pumping 6,000 cubic meters of water daily from the groundwater, which could compromise recharge of the aquifer,  and the ejection of wastewater – - treated, we dare to hope! — into the Trou du Nord River and, ultimately, Caracol Bay.
  • Electricity will not be green – missed opportunity to innovate – but instead be fueled by oil, resulting in heavy and toxic wastes.
  • Construction of 5,000 homes by the U.S. government in partnership with Food for the Poor [5] will not avert the danger of bantustanization, not only of Caracol, but also of the surrounding communities.

The list is long for the risks and negative impacts enumerated in the report.

We wish to emphasize two risky aspects of the Caracol project that merit our attention.

The report clearly establishes the dangers to the environment in general and to the marine ecosystem in particular. It quickly mentions the dangers to cultural heritage and tourism potential of the Northern Region.

Caracol barrier reef (Photo: Nick Hobgood).

Caracol Bay mangroves.

Regarding the first aspect, the Koios report says:

“Caracol Bay is recognized as an area unique to Haiti. It includes the largest remaining mangroves in the country, hosts more than 20,000 migratory birds each year and represents a habitat and nursery area for a productive marine ecosystem that provides many services to coastal communities in Haiti.

The government has proposed to make it the next protected area of ​​the country. Another site would be a better solution to avoid impacts on sensitive areas such as Caracol Bay.

If another site is unavailable, a plan for conservation and management must be implemented that is supported and rigorously applied.”

In addition to maintenance of the marine ecological balance being an indispensable role of mangroves, they also play a protective role in the even of tsunamis and hurricanes, which is not noted in the Koios report.

“The tourism potential of the area and the surrounding region is considerable, because you can find some key historical sites, such as the National Historical Park Sans Souci, the Citadelle Ramiers (sic) and the Citadel Henri. La Navidad, where Christopher Columbus first landed and Puerto Real (sic) in Caracol Bay  (the first known commercial port of the New World) are also included. Although these cultural sites are not directly affected by the project, it is important to plan and evaluate the industrial park in the wider context of regional plans and the potential of the region,”

emphasized the Koios report in the section on cultural heritage and tourism.

We would do the reverse of the last statement, not knowing if these sites would not be directly affected by the project.

We can easily predict the effects of an uncontrolled migration of 300,000 people on the natural and cultural landscapes across the region, especially on sites located in the immediate vicinity of Caracol.

This is now the case for La Navidad and Puerto Real.

It should be noted that remnants of La Navidad Fort, erected on November 24, 1492 on the instructions of Columbus after the sinking of the Santa Maria, were identified in En-Bas Saline, just one kilometer from Caracol.

It is, therefore, in our country that the first fortification of the New World is to be found. We can assert its existence and promote it as a tourism product of definite interest.

This fort, erected in the middle of the Taino village of Guacanagaric, was destroyed by the Taino, but its ruins remain at the site.

In addition, archaeological excavations conducted by the University of Florida in Gainesville and the office of ethnology [6] discovered that the Taino Indian village of Guacanagaric, which was already 300 years old on the arrival of Columbus, is the one of the largest and most complete in the Caribbean.

It is now covered with weeds and thrown to the goats for pasture.

Moreover, the “lost city” of Christopher Columbus, the famous city of Puerto Real, long a puzzle to archeologists of the Caribbean, was discovered, thanks to Dr. William Hodges, near Caracol, about 2 km from En-Bas Saline.

The importance of Puerto Real to the history of colonization and the emergence of Creole cultures is of indisputable scientific interest.

Artifacts collected by Dr. Kathleen Deagan’s team have helped to identify the periods and mechanisms of creolization between the Taino, Spanish and African cultures. The three cultures coexisted between 1503 and 1578.

A museum or historic interpretive center should be erected on this highly important and symbolic site.

The site should not quietly return to oblivion or, worse, be vandalized by future squatters.

So, within 2 km of Caracol, we find three important archaeological sites of invaluable historical and cultural value: the Taino Indian village of Guacanagaric, La Natividad Fort, and the Spanish city of Puerto Real.

What could be better as a tourist attraction?

All the quadrilateral “Limonade / Caracol / Trou-du-Nord / Fort Liberté” should be a classified and protected national heritage.

Apart from the historical aspects, Caracol and Fort Liberté bays (bayaha in taino) are places of breathtaking beauty that should lend themselves to eco-tourism!

And we want to destroy them!

The terms of the equation

The situation therefore could not be clearer.

Agricultural engineer Ronald Toussaint, current Minister of the Environment (bn), at a meeting held on February 8, 2012 east of the capital, had to admit to the donors and guests: all the “precious and unique” ecosystem of Caracol Bay is endangered by the establishment of an industrial park specifically in that location.

The study by the Koios company, charged with evaluating the social and economic impacts of the site selection (yes, as ever, we put the cart before the horse), although it may be accused of negligence and serious methodological errors, however gives a clear opinion: given some threats to local social and physical infrastructure, particularly the environment and marine ecosystem of the bay,

“the alternative left to the government is to cancel or relocate the park….”

Signing of agreement for a park in Caracol on January 11, 2011 (Photo: PIRN).

“The choice, evidently, is not technical but political.” [7] (Koios 2011: 35).

Later, taking into account “political” considerations, the same report qualifies its position.

The term “political” – understandably – is used here in a narrow sense for, not the “affairs of the city” or the nation, but the interests of certain powerful groups, local and international.

These “political” considerations are as follows:

“It would be possible to cancel the project altogether, but the stakes are high.

First, the proposed industrial park in the Northeast region is of high visibility, due to the participation of the IDB, the U.S. government, and a large South Korean group, plus the publicity that has accompanied the project for several months. Its cancellation would jeopardize the reputation of these stakeholders and could damage Haiti’s reputation as a desirable destination for investment.”

This leads the firm Koios to propose other choices to the government, especially a stay of execution to conduct scientific studies and develop management plans that are based on the operation and impacts of the park and on the establishment of a framework of policies and standards, to which all occupants of the park must comply.

But the report adds a significant downside:

“Best practice management standards cannot easily or inexpensively mitigate these impacts. Necessary measures will involve not only public awareness but also capital expenditure.”

Management plan and mitigation measures necessary

According to Minister Toussaint, the Ministry of Environment would need about US $50 million  [Editor's note: US $1.00 = 42.00 Haitian gourdes; 1 euro = 61.00 Haitian gourdes today] for a mitigation plan for these risks.

However, to date, the ministry has raised only $ 4.2 million [8].

What will happen if the funds are unavailable and if the recommendations contained in the various management plans cannot be put into practice?

We know the answer: most likely NOTHING.

And this is the reason for our concern.

Given our past indifference, the lack of awareness by the population and the highest levels of government about environmental and heritage issues, especially given the lack of legal and administrative infrastructure, and the deficiencies in physical resources, human and financial, do we have good reason to believe that all measures will be taken to address all the problems mentioned before the park’s opening, scheduled for the end of March 2012?

We the citizens of Haiti, are expected to show a blind faith in the businesswomen/men and political women/men of this country and a blissful faith in the international goodwill, or be forced to adopt a mentality of “magic” that would allow us to affirm that in our “strange little country” the same causes do not produce the same effects.

Everything will be fine, things will work out for themselves.

We have a tendency to classify any warning based on scientific data as the fanciful rantings of a handful of lunatics.

In our disbelief and our proverbial carelessness, the concept of “foreseeable disaster” is simply inconceivable.

We are in Haiti, you know … the land where the good God is doubly Good.


“Our conclusion is that the project will affect critical natural habitats if it is established here…. The question that remains to be determined is whether the project [is of a nature to] change or degrade critical natural habitats significantly.”(Koios report 2011: p.126).

No, the real question is not whether the impact will be significant or not.

The answer to this would come too late!

The real problem is that there will be surely be some impact, and barring a miracle, we will not have the means to cope.

Indeed, how could we think otherwise, when we take a serious look at our strengths and weaknesses with regard to rigorous management, tracking and monitoring records of the state?

In the current situation, the dilemma is how do we take advantage of those fairly short-term economic opportunities offered by the future Caracol park without forever compromising the natural and cultural heritage of the region?

Together, academic, social organizations across the country, investors, government and donors, we must, through reflection and consultation as wide as possible, arrive at win-win solutions.

While acknowledging the economic imperatives of the time, we must mobilize to prevent an irreparable and irreversible destruction of national wealth.

Therefore the Center for Studies and Research on Cultures and Societies (CERDECS) is launching the following calls, not to cancel the project — this would be unrealistic, given the state of play — but at least, to get a firm commitment from stakeholders that collateral damage to the population and environment will be prevented and limited.

  • - Call on the government to suspend the implementation of the industrial park at Caracol, since the important points raised about the risks are not adequately addressed and resources — material and financial resources for the protection of natural and cultural heritage in danger — will not be clearly identified and unobstructed;
  • - Call to the Executive and Parliament, to mount a legislative apparatus that addresses, in a comprehensive and rigorous way, the degradation of our environment;
  • - Call on the Department of the Environment and on the Parliament to designate a protected area that goes well beyond the marine park of Caracol and also includes the Fort Liberté Bay;
  • - Appeal to the Parliament to ratify the treaties and conventions not yet ratified on the protection of heritage;
  • - Call on the Ministry of Culture and Communication (MCC), the Secretariat of State Heritage, the Office of Ethnology and the Institute for the Protection of National Heritage (ISPAN) to classify as a national heritage the already identified pre-Columbian and Spanish archaeological sites throughout the country;
  • - Call on the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the Secretariat of State Heritage, the Office of Ethnology, the ISPAN and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-Haiti), about the urgent need to include all the Pre-Columbian and Spanish archaeological sites on the island on the list of World Heritage (jointly with the Dominican Republic). The set includes 24 sites for the entire island, 10 of which are located in Haitian territory;
  • - Call on the appropriate authorities (Ministry of Culture and Communication, Secretariat of State Heritage, ISPAN, ICOMOS-Haiti), to initiate, if they have not already done so, the registration process for the cultural landscapes of the Grand North on the tentative list of World Heritage United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);
  • - Call on the Department of Tourism, Hotel and Tourism Association of Haiti and the North, local organizations for eco-tourism, to develop this unique heritage. One could, among other things, create the “Columbus-Haiti trail,” which would go from the Mole St. Nicolas to Mancenille Bay. A “Columbus Hispaniola Road” could go from Mole St. Nicolas to the Samana Peninsula (based on Columbus’ first voyage). Such an initiative should be considered jointly with the Dominican Republic;
  • - Call on Haitian universities, particularly the University of Limonade to create programs in oceanography, marine biology, environmental science, archeology, museology and training in crafts and heritage and tourism. These knowledge and skills, combined with the scientific interest, are essential for the development of a strong tourism and cultural sector, and most importantly, one that is environmentally friendly;
  • - Appeal to donors and investors to commit themselves to consider environmental issues in their projects in Haiti resolutely and unequivocally, and through concrete actions;
  • - Call on environmental groups inside and outside of the country to defend this unique and irreplaceable natural heritage for Haiti, the Caribbean and the entire planet.

We endorse the alarm from the foundation for the protection of marine biodiversity which “reiterates its deep concern” and appeals to

“all international donor participants (who) are bound by environmental protection procedures to which they must comply.

Do not let this become another example of a project launched in a rush, without the appropriate environmental safeguards in place. Haiti cannot afford more environmental disasters. “

Support the courageous warning from Haiti’s Department of the Environment, understand that urgent multidisciplinary scientific studies and mitigation actions and backup are prerequisites to the implementation of the project.

Otherwise, the industrial park of Caracol will become another entry in the Red Book of environmental disasters.

Port-au-Prince, February 12, 2012. Published by AlterPresse Friday, March 16, 2012


  • - AlterPresse Haiti: Caracol-Industrial Park: A model for Martelly. Silence on the negative impacts … Nov 29, 2011 / Haiti Grassroots Watch. Industrial park in Caracol: a “win-win” situation?
  • - BID Press Release Nov 28, 2011.
  • - Cadet, Carl Henry. For an environmentally friendly park.  Le Nouvelliste, Feb 8, 2012.
  • - Deagan, Kathleen (editor). Puerto Real: The Archaeology of a Sixteenth Century Spanish Town in Hispaniola. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1995.
  • - Deagan, Kathleen. Curation of materials from En Bas Saline. Florida Museum of Natural History. En Bas Saline Project, 2003.
  • - Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York : Penguin Books. 2005.
  • - FoProBiM. (Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity) Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ?
  • FoProBiM (Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity) and Reef Fix Rapid Assessment of the Economic Value of Ecosystem Services Provided by Mangroves and Coral Reefs and Steps Recommended for the Creation of a Marine Protected Area, Caracol Bay, Haïti, May 2009. For the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN).
  • - Joachim, Dieudonné Le Nouvelliste, Haïti : Caracol aura le plus grand Parc industriel du pays 28 nov 2011.
  • - KOIOS Associates LLC. Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the Industrial Park in the Northern Region of Haiti presented to the Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Haiti, Jun 21, 2011.
  • - MEF-UTE et bid. Contract HA-L1055-SN2. Action Plan for compensation and restoration of livelihoods of people affected by the proposed industrial park in the northern region. Done by ERICE AZ, Port-au-Prince, Sep 2011.
  • MEF-UTE :…,
  • - PIRN. Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) for the Industrial Park area of ​​northern Haiti. Aug 5, 2011.
  • - Wall Street Journal. Planned Haitian textile park provides hope for jobs. an 11, 2011. Wilford, John Noble. Columbus’s lost town: new evidence is found. New York Times, Aug 27, 1985.
  • [1] Anthropologist and museum professional.
  • [2] Wall Street Journal: Duty-free entrance to the U.S. is “a big reason” behind Sae-A’s decision, Mr. Garwood said. It means that Sae-A will be able to offer discounts to U.S. clients, who will then have incentives to place more orders with the company, he said.…” This is business,” Mr. Garwood said. “At the end of the day, it’s about making a profit. It’s finding a country like Haiti with close proximity to the U.S. and having access to a labor supply. There’s such unemployment here there won’t be a problem finding employable people although it will take time and effort to train them.”
  • [3] At least four studies have been commissioned: two by Koios, one by the Rocher group, and another by the University of Quisqueya, according to Haiti Grassroots Watch. But what use are they if the recommendations are not taken into account?
  • [4] A plan has been provided by the Haitian Ministry of Finance, but, according to reports from Haiti Grassroots Watch, the farmers have not received any compensation.
  • [5] Food for the Poor, is known as an organization through which the U.S. often passes on to the “Third World” the subsidized agricultural products of U.S. farmers.
  • [6] Excavations unfortunately cut short after the political crises of 1986 and 2003-2004.
  • [7] Full text in Koios report: p. 35 “In view of the selection criteria established by the Haitian government and cited in the previous section of this report, the possibility of finding another site that would be preferable to the one that was the subject of our analysis and would respond equally to those criteria, is unlikely. There are therefore only two alternatives to this project: 1. Moving the project to another site, or, 2. Cancellation of the project.”
  • [8] Carl Henry Cadet. For an environmentally friendly park.  Le Nouvelliste, Feb 8, 2012., FoProBiM. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Center for Studies and Research on Cultures and Societies (CERDECS), Port-au-Prince, Haiti February 12, 2012,

Sources: Haiti Chery (English translation, editorial comment, addition of photos) | AlterPresse (French) 

Recommendation from Haiti Chery:
- Fertile Land Seized for New Sweatshop Zone

Copyright © 2012-2014 by Dady Chery. Dady Chery is a journalist, playwright, essayist and poet, who writes in English, French and her native Creole. She is the Editor of Haiti Chery.

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