The following is adapted from a presentation by Jessica Hsu of Other Worlds and Jean Claudy Aristil of Radio VKM Les Cayes at the Executive Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism conference in St. Georges, Grenada held from July 8 – July 11, 2014.
A large-scale tourism project planned for the Haitian island of Île-à-Vache targets “the well-heeled tourist from traditional markets…creating a place of exquisite peace and well-being,” as described in thengovernment of Haiti’s executive plan. The project aims to attract four character types: “the Explorers, the Lovers, the Rejuvenators and the Homecomers.” The corporations behind the project intend to build 1,500 hotels and bungalows along the island’s beaches, an international airport, a golf course, island farms, and tourist “villages” with cafes, shops, and night clubs. The government touts the project as “community hand-in-hand”, with “equitable distribution of benefits for all.” It says the tourism will be “mothering [to] nature” and is for the “general good.”
The community sees it very differently. A grassroots group, Collective for Île-à-Vache (KOPI), was formed in December 2013 and immediately began organizing multiple peaceful protests, strengthening the voices of the local community, and connecting with allies. Community members have been mobilizing because they understand the multiple challenges ahead if the project continues as planned. Problems will likely include displacement of people from their land,forced migration to the overcrowded capital in search of work, loss of food production in a hungry nation, further economic impoverishment, and environmental and cultural degradation. The administration has been making empty promises and telling lies to the inhabitants of the island, while systematically violating their rights and using violence to repress and intimidate those who have been peacefully protesting.
Special police forces, such as the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM) and the Intervention and Order Maintenance Corps (CIMO), have a permanent presence on the island now. Preceding the inception of the tourism project, there were only three police officers. In the last two weeks, a SWAT team has been introduced to the island. [The team was described in one account as more than 50 special police forces dressed in black with masks.] Vice-president of KOPI, Police officer Jean Mathelnus Lamy, was arrested on February 21st. He was moved to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on Februray 25, where he remains without official charges.
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