May 6, 2021

Destination of the week

Pin It

Marni Soupcoff: A cruise ship full of vacationers does more to help Haitians than billions in aid

By Marni Soupcoff From National Post

Is it obscene to show up to one of the world’s poorest countries in a giant, floating amusement park? It felt like it was

On a Caribbean cruise last week (which my family and I enjoyed even if, or perhaps because, we consumed our yearly allotment of dietary sugar and fat in a matter of days), I got off the boat at our first stop: Labadee, Haiti. There, a local guide walked a group of us from the boat around the port in a relaxed tour. We oohed and ahhed at the gorgeous beaches on the hilly peninsula; we nodded politely as we learned of the supposedly miraculous medicinal properties of the local vegetation. (Apparently, endocrinologists would be out of business if people would just use Neem tree leaves and yams more judiciously.)

The experience was lovely, my paranoia about contracting the Zika virus from an infected mosquito notwithstanding. But the experience was also … well, weird. Is it obscene to show up to one of the world’s poorest countries in a giant, floating amusement park where guests regularly punctuate rides on the carousel with hotdog and cupcake between-meal snack breaks? It felt like it was. In addition, it felt somewhat fraudulent to even claim to be in Haiti.

Labadee is in Haiti. It’s a remote Haitian fishing village. But Labadee is also a private resort leased by the Royal Caribbean cruise line. There’s a tall, no-nonsense fence, complete with barbed wire and armed security folks, which separates the resort from the rest of the area … and the impoverished locals.

It’s disturbing. Seventy per cent of Haitians have no direct access to potable drinking water. Are we showing up in gaudy Lilly Pulitzer dresses and sniffing, “Let them drink ‘Labadoozies’”? (The Labadoozie is Royal Caribbean’s signature rum-based concoction, named, I like to think, by someone with a well-developed sense of irony.)

I was silently mulling these questions as I toured the place. But my tour guide seemed to have little use for such first world mental flagellation.

He spoke English well. He also spoke French, German, and a couple other languages. He learned them all in high school, he told us. The same was true of his younger siblings. His older sister spoke only Haitian Creole. She’d grown up just before Royal Caribbean had started leasing the resort and bringing significant money into the area, he explained, so the enhanced school options hadn’t existed yet.

I have never been as certain as some libertarians that rational selfishness is the best way to create systematic social benefits

According to the guide, Royal Caribbean’s construction of water and electricity infrastructure has also been extremely beneficial for the surrounding villagers. Does it matter that the company’s motivation was to power a roller coaster and serve tourists Pina Coladas?

I have never been as certain as many of my libertarian-leaning friends that rational selfishness is the best way to create systematic social benefits. Yet, the Labadee example is persuasive in its small way.

Over US$13-billion in charitable relief (both public and private) was earmarked for Haiti after the country’s deadly 2010 earthquake. We don’t know how much of that money made it directly to the Haitians who needed the help, but some dispiriting estimates hover around 10 per cent.

A few years after the earthquake, a blog post by two employees of the Center for Global Development summed up how unsuccessful the charitable push had been in making a difference. “Haiti received an amount almost equal to its gross domestic product,” wrote Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Waltz, “but several hundred thousand people remain in tent camps set up in the aftermath of the quake. Port-au-Prince (the Haitian capital) still lacks good roads, electricity and safe drinking water.”

As our guide reminded us, there are still displaced Haitians living in tents today, seven years after the disaster. And according to the CIA World Fact Book, the country’s unemployment rate is around 40 per cent. (Our guide estimated unemployment at 80 per cent, his view possibly influenced by the fact that less than a third of Haiti’s labour force has a formal job.)

In contrast, Royal Caribbean and its gauche, cash-grabbing operation have been successfully employing hundreds of Haitians, and injecting money directly into the Haitian economy, for decades. If the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is crucial infrastructure, the profit method is proving the more successful chef.

On my way back to the ship, I bought a few toys I didn’t want from one of the local vendors licensed by Royal Caribbean to sell trinkets on the resort. I did it to “help.” My guilt-fuelled donation made no difference, I’m sure. But staying on the ship out of shame wouldn’t have helped either. And cumulatively, the price paid for the selfish but genuine enjoyment of a beautiful, vibrant place seems to be doing some good.

National Post


As the sun rises on badly hit town of Jeremie, the capital city of the Grand’Anse department, young men stand in the rubble that were once seaside homes. MUST Sarah L. Voisin / Sarah L. Voisin

Haitian revelers wearing costumes dance during the second day of 2015 National Carnival Parade in Port-au-Prince on Monday. Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty Images



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ieyenews

Speak Your Mind