CARACOL, Haiti (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in northern Haiti on Monday at the head of a delegation of foreign investors and a crowd of celebrities to showcase the centerpiece of the U.S. effort to help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake.
An all-star turnout was expected for the opening of the industrial park more than 100 miles from the slowly recovering quake zone. Sean Penn, who has run his own aid effort in Haiti, was there, along with actor Ben Stiller, fashion designer Donna Karen and British business magnate Richard Branson.
Earlier, thousands of Haitians, many of them standing outside small roadside huts, waved at Mrs. Clinton’s motorcade as it wound its way from the airport. She and other U.S. officials, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, toured a housing development for industrial park workers supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Clintons and their allies hope that the $300 million industrial facility will transform the northern part of this impoverished country by providing thousands of desperately needed jobs.
Some Haitians have a sharply different view. They say the Caracol Industrial Park does little more than replicate failed efforts from the past and contend it will benefit outsiders more than Haitians. They also worry it will harm some of the few pieces of undamaged environment that still exist in Haiti.
“It’s really all-in on this project, and there’s a high bar to deliver,” said Laurent Dubois, a historian who teaches at Duke University and is author of “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.” ”It really needs to deliver in a big way so that people will think, yeah, this was the right thing to do.”
The stakes are high in large part because the Clintons have been so heavily involved.
The Caracol project was in the works before the earthquake, but it became a top priority for the Obama administration soon after the disaster. Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, has made almost monthly visits to the site on Haiti’s northern coast.
Mr. Clinton also took an interest. He attended the project’s groundbreaking a year ago with Haitian President Michel Martelly.
The $124 million put in by the U.S. makes the park Washington’s biggest single investment in the aftermath of the quake, and it is certain to shape the legacy of the Clintons, who last visited Haiti together in 1975 on a wedding gift following their honeymoon in Mexico.
Monday’s trip is Mrs. Clinton’s third to Haiti since the earthquake, and there have been more than a dozen visits by her husband, who was co-chairman of an earthquake recovery panel before its mandate ended a year ago.
The industrial park to be inaugurated by the Clintons was built on a 617-acre site meant to “decentralize” Haiti’s economy away from the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince and help develop the long-neglected countryside.
The anchor tenant is South Korean apparel giant Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., which began production in May. It has agreed to create 20,000 permanent jobs within six years and also build 5,000 houses. Backers say the entire park has the potential to generate up to 65,000 jobs in all.
Sae-A, which shipped 76,000 T-shirts to Wal-Mart in the United States on Oct. 15, says it is training 1,050 people it has hired, 70 percent of them from the area surrounding Caracol. Daniel Cho, a representative of Sae-A in Haiti, said the employees will be paid almost $5 for eight hours of work.