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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Should Cruise Ships Stop Docking in Haiti?

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake of a 7.0 magnitude. An island already stricken with poverty and disease prior to the quake was about to get a whole lot worse. Desperate people, many of which are very poor, were just beginning to cope with tragic losses beyond anything imaginable. Citizens are being deprived of simple necessities you and I take for granted every single day. Imagine a world around you without adequate food, water, clothing and shelter. Such a world became a reality in Haiti earlier this year affecting many innocent people.

Meanwhile, less than 65 miles away from Haiti’s devastated capital city, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) were docking cruise ships at their private resort island in Labadee; located in the northern coast of Haiti. Picturing these immense sea vessels packed with passengers gorging themselves with luxuries and wonderful accommodations while so many others are suffering in the area doesn’t seem right on the surface. Some consider it sickening to think of food that is being served at buffets while many are starving and experiencing much pain not far away. Many have gone on to call Royal Caribbean cruel and many others demanded they stop docking at Haiti immediately. An article by the Guardian quoted many passengers who were uneasy about vacationing there during the crisis.(1) Critics all over the spectrum were quick to blast RCI for choosing to dock after such a horrific incident. How could a company bring themselves to do such a thing?

First, let’s consider the economic impact of ceasing all docks at Labadee. Each cruise ship deploys about 3,000 tourists who spend their money in the Haitian economy. RCI is also among Haiti’s largest foreign investors employing “200 locals at Labadee and allowing another 300 to sell their wares on the premises."(2) There is also a $6 “head tax” per tourist that is paid directly to the Haitian government; and with over 365,000 tourists every year, this adds up to over $2 million in revenue from this head tax alone.(2) This is revenue that goes to the Haitian government before anyone ever gets off the ship. Now take into consideration how much money is spent on souvenirs, bar tabs, tips, etc. If these ships stopped docking, what would these people do? Haiti is a country where two thirds of people are currently unemployed.(4) These people would all be left without a job during a time of a severe crisis. The likelihood of finding another job in Haiti is next to impossible. If some of these people were able to find a new job, it would most certainly be a job that pays considerably less and without benefits. A more sensible question would be, how much worse off would Haiti be without this company investing in their island? Frankly, Haiti cannot afford to strip away this sector of their economy - especially now.

Many others also do not know the amount of humanitarian aid RCI has given to their Haitian business partners. On January 15, RCI delivered nearly 40 pallets of food and water.(2) In the following days, RCI would deliver more supplies which quickly added up to over 400 pallets of much needed supplies and in the coming weeks sent more. This was only the beginning, as RCI promised to donate all money made at the Labadee resort to the Haitain relief effort until at least February.(2) This generous donation combined with passenger donations added up to over $2 million dollars in aid by the end of January.(2) It has also been reported that food left over on the island not consumed by passengers would be taken home by the Haitians who work at Labadee.(3) When word of this spread, many passengers were skipping their meals on the island so locals would have food to take home to needy families. The company also started an existing crew-welfare fund to provide up to $2,500 in grant money to any Haitian employee seeking to rebuild homes or find a loved one.(2) With an exchange rate of roughly 40 Gourdes to the dollar, this is an extremely generous offer. Prior to the earthquake, RCI spent $55 million upgrading the port at Labadee.(2) Does anyone really think the people of the Haitian islands would have seen this kind of investment if it weren’t for these cruise ships? It is impossible to measure the relief this one company alone has provided to the people of Haiti not only this year, but all the years prior.

In addition, the Haitian government strongly urged RCI to continue to visit the island. Yes, the Haitian government really pushed for RCI to continue to dock their ships, bring in tourists, and send in relief aid. RCI has been more than generous by bringing their business to the island. How bad could this be if the Haitian government itself has continued to ask RCI to continue docking their ships? If this were a bad thing, the Haitian government would not have asked for the business. After examining the evidence above, one can only conclude stopping these ships would be foolish for RCI as well as for the people of Haiti. It’s a good thing RCI did not back down to the pressure on the left, or else the Haitian victims would be suffering even more today than they already have.


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