By Nick Papa
Although most of Haiti has been rocked by an earthquake that the New York Times called “the worst in the region in more than two hundred years” and with almost 200 thousand missing or dead, a small division of this devastated country remains unaffected by all of this.
Ninety miles from the devastated capital city of Port-au-Prince (16 miles outside the epicenter of the earthquake) is a spick-and-span resort known as Labadee.
Leased to Royal Caribbean International by the Haitian government, the port allows tourists on Royal Caribbean cruises to dock in Haiti with the protection of a 12-foot tall fence separating them from the disaster that surrounds.
While I am disgusted by the fact that an American company is able to lease land in a foreign country for the purpose of setting up a disturbing Disneyland-like version of Haiti in Haiti (complete with private beach, American restaurants and bars and a reconstructed Haitian market), there is a far bigger issue at hand.
How could anyone justify spending, at base price, anywhere between $500 (an interior stateroom) and $2,500 (a deluxe suite) to enjoy a holiday on the beach, when, just beyond a partition, they are surrounded by an impoverished and suffering country?
A large part of the problem is that a number of passengers are not even aware they are in Haiti.
David Southby, Royal Caribbean’s site manager for Labadee, said, “If you are honest, even if you tell them, most passengers don’t know where they are, usually,” according to csmonitor.com.
Despite any indirect good that these cruises might provide Haiti, passengers have reported believing they were in Puerto Rico, with some even told by cruise employees that they were in Hispaniola (the name given to the island on which Haiti is located some 520 years ago by Christopher Columbus).
This sheds light on the reality that Royal Caribbean executives clearly understand there are people who, like me, would find something intrinsically wrong with vacationing in a third world country.
Is it that people really do not care? Or are so many people really ignorant of the location of the private beach resort they are enjoying?
If the latter is true, the irony of tourists spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on uniformed whims strikes me, especially when a place like Haiti really needs that kind of money.
Though some reported feelings of awkwardness while trying to enjoy a meal in Haiti with the knowledge that right above the wall people were going hungry, others seem not to care.
“I’ll be [in Haiti] on Tuesday and I plan on enjoying my zip line excursion as well as time on the beach,” said one Royal Caribbean customer when interviewed for the “UK Gaurdian.”
According to its Web site, Royal Caribbean currently employs Haitians (250 on their cruises and 300 in Labadee) and has donated upwards of $1 million dollars to relief efforts.
Even if Royal Caribbean provides Haiti with millions in profits from tourism, it is just not right. To me, Royal Caribbean executives are making sure tourists will continue to book cruises.
It would be a far cry for any of these people to convince themselves that they are helping anyone in Haiti from the comfort of an American resort that could exist anywhere in the world.
The fact that this resort exists in Haiti leaves me with ugly thoughts of an imperialistic America: moving into and exploiting a country that is far worse off than America.
Royal Caribbean and the people who have paid good money to go to Labadee should be ashamed of themselves.
If you want to go to Haiti, go to the real Haiti and let your money go into Haiti’s economy, not into the pockets of Royal Caribbean executives.
If you want to enjoy a private beach, I am quite sure there are much cheaper options closer to home.