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Haiti cruise terminal

Haiti’s new cruise terminal in doubt

Haiti’s reconstruction plans following the devastating earthquake in 2010 were significantly bolstered by the announcement in July 2014 that Carnival Corporation was all set to begin work on a second cruise terminal in the country. It was to be located at Pointe-Ouest on Tortuga Island in the north of the country.

However, there are now doubts over the legality of the memorandum of understanding that was signed between Carnival and the government, because of a previous agreement reached by a former government way back in 1970, granting a 99-year concession to Texas businessman Don Pierson to create a free port on the site.

Royal Caribbean has operated a private port at Labadde, on the north coast, exclusively since 1986. It was leased to the company as a private resort until 2050 and contributes a large part of Haiti’s tourist revenue. It employs about 300 local people, with several hundred more running stalls and kiosks on the site.

Vessels up to Oasis class can berth at the terminal, which was upgraded by Royal Caribbean in 2009 at a cost of US$ 55 million. Cruise visits continued after the 2010 earthquake, with Royal Caribbean donating US$ 1 million to the relief fund and using its cruise ships to bring in supplies and personnel.

It was hoped Carnival’s investment in the country’s second cruise terminal would provide a comparable economic boost. With tourism trends indicating that Haiti has the biggest growth rate in tourist arrivals in the Caribbean, the project held out hope for many on the island in the battle against poverty.

Potential

It is estimated that the development would create 2,000 new jobs and would significantly increase the tourism potential of the country – a sector viewed by many as crucial to improving the life of much of the population.

The second cruise port on Tortuga Island (Ile de La Tortue in French) represents an investment of some US$ 70 million. Tortuga is a relatively remote island 11 miles offshore. Another development is taking place in the south of Tortuga, with US$ 250 million being invested in a new high-end resort with condominiums, spa facilities and an international airport.

In 1970 the then president, François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, granted Pierson’s company, Dupont Caribbean Inc, a 99-year lease to build a free port and develop the island’s infrastructure for tourism. This contract provided for the establishment of Freeport Tortuga.

Rapid investment and development followed, including an international airport, water and sewerage systems and roads. However, by 1974 it had all gone sour. Soon after it was announced that Gulf Oil Corporation was planning to invest more than US$ 300 million to build a resort on the island, the president, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, expropriated the project, eventually leading to its collapse as investors dried up or were too nervous to commit. Don Pierson died in 1996, leaving his son Grey to resolve matters.

As the arguments rumble on, it is unclear how this impasse will be resolved. According to reports, Carnival was unaware of the 1970 agreement when it signed the deal, while Haitian officials are saying there are no obstacles and the deal with Carnival is still on. For the sake of the Haitian people, who have waited so long for this investment, let us hope so.