Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ile a Vache: Paradise Lost?

When we hear about the creation of new jobs in Haiti, this is often seen as a positive change. And rightfully so, given the country’s high unemployment and underemployment rates. There are more people in Haiti that want to work than there are jobs for them to fill. But when the creation of jobs results in the loss of livelihood for others, are more jobs always a good thing?

Ile a Vache, a 20-square mile island off of Haiti’s southern coast, known as one of the country’s most pristine and beautiful islands, has recently become a hub of booming development. An airport is being built, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, and golf courses. All of this is in the name of a new mandate for ecotourism being pushed by the Haitian government. The gradual transition to a resort town is already well underway, but what about Ile a Vache’s 20,000 residents?

Since Ile a Vache is so small and so remote, most of the population is made up of farmers and fishermen whose families have called the island home for generations. In May 2013 a decree was put forward by the Haitian government, which annulled all property rights of the islands residents for five years and declared the island of Ile and Vache a zone of tourism

The project of turning Ile a Vache into a resort town was never explained to the island's residents. The people of Ile a Vache still do not know what is being built or why their homes and farms must be plowed under to carry forth this ecotourism push.

In the US, we equate increasing numbers of jobs with increasing amounts of success. But how can the Haitian people of Ile a Vache be productive and successful when their traditional livelihoods are taken away along with the land of their ancestors?

While we cannot speak for the Haitian government or any of the few news sources reporting on the issues in Ile a Vache, Lambi Fund of Haiti is concerned with the situation on the island and believes that it needs increasing attention. In Ile a Vache, the peasants, the very people who Lambi Fund exists to serve, are losing their historic lands and livelihoods to this new push for ecotourism.

But shouldn’t the people of Haiti have a say in determining what their own future looks like? You can read more about the situation in Ile a Vache in the most recent edition of CounterPunch, an on-line journal started by the late British journalist, Alexander Cockburn.

Photos by Marie-Chantalle.