Three years after the devastating Port-au-Prince earthquake, one of the largest international relief projects in Haiti isn’t anywhere near where the quake hit. It’s an industrial park on the north coast halfway between Cap-Haitien and the border with the Dominican Republic.
Aid agencies are pouring millions of dollars into the project to encourage people to move out of the overcrowded capital and create jobs. Critics, however, say the jobs don’t pay enough to lift people out of poverty.
Electricity at the park comes from a 10-megawatt power plant installed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. Sassine says the generators provide electricity not just to the park but also to the surrounding communities, which never had power before.
“The whole idea is not only to create jobs, but to see if we can create better living conditions for everybody around,” Sassine says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Many local residents shrug off the arrival of electricity, however, saying they can’t afford to pay for it.
Gilles Damais, the head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Haiti office, says Caracol is a critical element of efforts to decentralize Haiti away from the capital.
“Port-au-Prince was built for more or less 250,000 people,” Damais says. “And now we have nearly 3 million in the metropolitan area. It’s unsustainable. It’s impossible to rebuild such a monster.”
“Wages are never enough to lift people out of poverty, especially in a poor country,” Sassine says.