Land disputes in Haiti have not only economic, but also human rights implications. Due to factors starting during the colonial period, land ownership is unclear in much of Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, this caused many problems for groups hoping to build developments for the displaced. Now, it’s causing problems for residents of Ile-a-Vache, whose land is being taken by the government in hopes of bringing tourists to the island off Haiti’s coast.
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Who Owns What in Haiti?
Jacob Kushner, The New Yorker
January 18, 2015
The island of La Tortue, off the northern coast of Haiti, has become best known as a place where Haitians facing hard times set sail for lot bo dlo—the other side of the water. When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first ousted, in 1991, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted and repatriated some eighteen hundred “boat people” who had fled Haiti’s north coast en route to South Florida. Recently, though, one British-American company has been working to bring large numbers of people in the other direction, from South Florida to La Tortue. In July, Carnival Corporation, the cruise-ship company, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Haitian government, which would allow a port to be opened on the island’s Pointe-Ouest beach, to serve as a stopover for its Caribbean ships. Haitian officials claimed that the development would create two thousand jobs, and would represent a major step forward in a plan for tourism to propel the nation’s economy. Five years after an earthquake caused an estimated $8.1 to $13.9 billion in damage—more than the country’s G.D.P. at the time—Haiti remains plagued by chronic underemployment and poverty.
The port deal is now at risk, however, because the ground onto which Carnival’s passengers would disembark may not have been the government’s to offer. In 1970, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, Haiti’s President at the time, agreed to lease much of La Tortue to a Texas businessman named Don Pierson, with the aim of creating a free port; Pierson’s son, Grey, now holds the lease. The contract gave Don Pierson’s company a ninety-nine-year lease, and specified that he would develop the island’s infrastructure for tourism. Though Pierson soon began signing deals to that end, including one with Gulf Oil, for three hundred million dollars, the development project never got off the ground.
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