Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Caracol, Haiti Oct 22

Back from another lightning trip -- this one to Caracol, Haiti, where Clinton was due to preside over the opening of a new industrial park as part of the broader post-earthquake reconstruction.

It was a long day. Up at 5 a.m., have coffee, drive down to the State Department, meet the crew at 6 a.m. or so, then out to Andrews and on to the plane. It was a small crew of journalists, but we still didn't get any good seats. Along with Clinton, the Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was with us, as was Senator Patrick Leahy and the head of the IDB. We knew Bill Clinton was going to participate in the event, but as it turned out he went down separately ...

We arrived at the newly-expanded airport at Cap Haitien. They lengthened the runway to accomodate bigger planes (both for trade and tourism) but they obviously didn't lengthen it any longer than necessary -- we came to a screeching stop.

From there it was off to the new development area. It is about 20 miles from Cap Haitien, and people were out along the route waving at the motorcade. From the van windows it certainly looked like a West African scene -- same ads for barbers, lots of places to collect overseas remittances, little corner stores.

The first stop was a new housing development that they are constructing to accomodate workers at the new plant. There were row after row of neat little concrete houses, set out in the middle of nowhere. The had painted them up in pastel colors, and the houses looked functional if tiny. But there was no escaping the "public housing" vibe -- it looked alot like the RDP houses in South Africa -- no trees, houses extremely close together, and nothing else round except construction and empty fields. We were told that a lot of the people who would take over the houses had been displaced by the earthquake and had been essentially camping out with friends and family, so maybe it will look inviting to them. But it looked sort of bleak to me.

After that it was onward to the Caracol industrial plant. Its anchor tenant is Sae-A, a Korean garment manufacturer, and you could see some of the (mostly female) workers strolling around in bright colored smocks. There are several large hangar-style buildings, one housing the Sae-A workshop and others ready for other businesses. The hope is eventually it will provide 20,000 jobs, which would be a major boon for the region where joblessness is a major problem.

So Clinton arrived, met the president, and then went in to talk to a special "investors" group that had also arrived for the ceremony. It was funny to walk into their luncheon -- a small room, a few tables, and there's Sean Penn, Richard Branson, Donna Karen, Ben Stiller, Bill Clinton ... a lot of star power.

Clinton spoke, President Martelly spoke, then it was out to have pictures taken with the Sae-A workers. She and Bill toured the plant, and then went to another building where they were doing the formal inaugration ceremony. It was HOT...I had sweated completely through my shirt, and didn't think I could expose that by taking off my jacket so I just quietly melted for an hour.

Then it was back to the vans, a quick swing by the new power plant they have built to run the park, and back to the plane and a (very bumpy) three hour ride home. I'm glad we made it back in time for the foreign policy debate at 9 p.m. but these one day trips really take it out of you!