U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the headliner at the launch of a $300 million industrial park in the Haitian town of Caracol on Monday.
The project is part of American efforts to help Haiti recover from the devastation it suffered during a January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 Haitians while leaving more than a million others homeless.
The U.S. has invested $124 million in the project, which it hopes will create thousands of jobs.
At a grand opening ceremony, Haiti’s President Michel Martelly declared the country to be “open for business”.
Martelly regretted that too often the images of Haiti shown around the world were sad, but was quick to add that Haiti had more to offer.
“We are committed to taking all appropriate measures to make it easier for you to invest in Haiti,” he told investors and celebrities in attendance at the opening ceremony such as actors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who now serves as the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, also attended the launch of the park in the impoverished north of Haiti, some 100 miles from the quake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince.
The park’s anchor tenant, South Korean clothing manufacturer Sae-A Trading, says it will create 20,000 permanent jobs over the next six years at the Caracol park and build 5,000 houses in the surrounding area for its workers.
Critics, however, fear the project could benefit foreign investors more than local workers. They say factory jobs rarely manage to pull locals out of poverty.
But Hillary Clinton said projects such as the Caracol industrial park created sustainable economic growth.
She said the U.S. had “learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid, it required investments in infrastructure and the economy that would help the Haitian people achieve their own dreams.”
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti’s plight became even more desperate following the massive 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the country, and from a subsequent cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 7,000 lives.