CARACOL, Haiti – It was a day that began with an aircraft landing that transformed a regional airport into an international hub, and ended with two Haitian presidents sharing a public embrace.
Haiti marked a new day Monday as two of its biggest supporters, the U.S. government and the Inter-American Development Bank, delivered on a $300 million promise to help Haitians chart their own destiny.
“In January, this was a construction site without a single structure,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, standing inside one of several newly built factory shells at the 600-acre Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti. “The development of the North represents a new day for Haiti and a new model for how the international community practices development.”
Clinton flew into Cap-Haitien aboard a U.S. government Boeing 757 just minutes behind her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who is the United Nations special envoy to Haiti. Joined by Haiti’s current and former president, the Clintons, along with IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno, officially opened the job-creating zone. It was jointly financed by the U.S. government and IDB.
“This is a symbol of a new Haiti,” President Michel Martelly said, as he touted Haiti to dozens of potential foreign investors who flew in for the event, including Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson. Joining the businessmen were several U.S. celebrities who have adopted the country since the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 Haitians.
Haiti, Hillary Clinton said, is a foreign policy priority for the Obama administration.
But for all the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. government has spent on building the industrial park, recruiting investors, and building a power plant and hundreds of houses nearby, she warned that “it’s up to the people and leaders of Haiti to sustain and build on this progress.”
She was joined at the site of the housing development by both Martelly and former President Rene Preval, who made a rare joint public appearance alongside his successor. Later, Martelly would publicly thank Preval, and at one point pulled him on stage and embraced him. Preval, he said, “was the one who allowed this project to happen.”
Preval’s administration began planning for the park long before the earthquake. Planning kicked into high gear after the devastation when Preval’s economic team approached Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, to join forces in recruiting the Korean textile manufacturer Sae-A as anchor tenant.
Last week, Sae-A, which employs 1,050 Haitian workers, shipped its first order: 67,000 T-shirts to Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, Bill Clinton, who kept a low profile during the day, said during the opening ceremony that “manufacturing matters” and the park was an answer to Haitians’ request not to concentrate all of their economic activities in one area.