From Thu Jul 17 14:00:14 2003
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003 15:30:13 -0500 (CDT)
From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Haiti_Progr=E8s?= <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 21:18 7/16/2003
Article: 161480
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Controversial Free Trade Zone to start soon

Haiti Progres, Vol.21 no.18, 16—22 July 2003

Near Haiti’s northeastern border town of Ouanaminthe, three gleaming new hangars stand on what was once the most precious farmland in this barren, hungry corner of the country. This land was part of the fertile Maribahoux plain, an area called Pitobert.

Now peasants’ plots have been bulldozed and paved over to build the first of 17 free trade zones (FTZ) which are planned to extend along the entire length of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Some 800 workers are being trained to work in the three initial plants, which government officials say will begin functioning sometime later this month.

To hear the Haitian government tell it, these zones are going to bring jobs and development to the region. There have been promises made that, beginning in September, there will be free schooling for all Ouanaminthe’s children, round the clock electricity, a potable water network, and a new paved road to Cap Haotien, the north’s main city to the west.

But this rosy picture contrasts sharply with the harsh reality of Citi Soleil. This sprawling slum of dingy tin and cardboard shacks set amid meandering open sewage canals and smoking garbage heaps is the by-product of Haiti’s first FTZ—the Industrial Park near the Port-au-Prince airport - launched under the Duvalier regime in the early 1970s.

An army of Haitian and Dominican workers toil from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. building the factories, customs area, and access road to the Dominican Republic, through which all the zone’s products are destined to flow. Dominican workers are doing most of the skilled work like carpentry, electrical wiring and plumbing. Haitian workers are mostly laborers, digging ditches, hammering stakes, and carrying iron rods and cement sacks. Dominicans are paid 800 pesos (US$24) a day and Haitians only 35 (US$1.06), another harbinger of discrepancies to come.

There is yet a third class of construction worker: Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. They are being paid 375 pesos (US$11.36) a day.

Heavily-armed Dominican soldiers watch over the work inside the zone, while large detachments of Haitian police guard activities on the outside. The zone also has its own private security force, headed by a Haitian who is a renowned criminal in the Northeast.

Most Haitians, including those around Ouanaminthe, did not learn about the project to build FTZs on the Maribahoux plain until President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Dominican counterpart Hipolito Mejia alighted in the area on Apr. 8, 2002 and dug the first ceremonial shovels-full of dirt (see Haoti Progrhs, Vol. 20, No. 4, 4/10/02).Three months later, Ben Dupuy, secretary general of the National Popular Party (PPN), made public a secret Trilateral Agreement between Haiti, the DR, and the United States which would effectively turn a 5 km corridor along the 375 km border into a Border Zone filled with industrial parks, highways, and airports (see Haoti Progrhs, Vol. 20, No. 17, 7/10/02). This is the prime feature of the U.S. State Department-championed Hispaniola Plan, which aims to convert the foreign debt of Haiti and the DR into tripartite (read U.S.) controlled territory i.e. the Border Zone. The PPN and many other progressive organizations have strongly condemned this scheme

On June 20, Haiti’s Commerce and Industry Minister announced his approval of two more free trade zones. The first, approved last December, has the Industrial Development Company, a Haitian-Dominican consortium, building a zone on 160 acres near Ouanaminthe (see Haoti Progrhs, Vol. 20, No. 47, 2/5/03). The second, signed on June 11, allows the Hispaniola Investment Company (HINSA) to build a 400 square kilometer zone in Drouillard, near Citi Soleil.

Many peasants on the Maribarahoux plain are bitter, not only about their expropriation, but about never being consulted or informed of the Haitian government’s plans for the region. Some 54 peasants so far are being forced to sell their land, but only 14 have so far accepted payment, according to Gaston Etienne, an agricultural engineer with the Pitobert Farmers’ Defense Committee.

Etienne also notes that the Haitian government has turned a blind eye to the destruction of farmland in Pitobert. The new law on free trade zones does take into account what we have said to them, he said. The text specifies that farming areas are to be exempt. But the authorities couldn’t care less.