Neglected islanders resist plan for Haiti tourism revival

Sun Apr 6, 2014 7:55am EDT
 
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By David Adams

ILE-A-VACHE, Haiti (Reuters) - For decades the mostly dirt-poor residents of the small island of Ile-à-Vache off Haiti's south coast lived in anonymity, virtually ignored by the government and visited only by the most adventurous backpackers and yachters.

Then in 2012, helicopters started dropping off big shots: Haiti's president, Michel Martelly, Bill Clinton, ad agency models and photographers, tourism executives. Madonna and Sean Penn were spotted in November.

Last year came the surprise: the government claimed the 17.3-square-mile former pirate lair as "a public utility," potentially stripping the 14,000 residents of their land to develop a high-end tourist resort. link.reuters.com/tum28v

"The local population was never consulted. It was a terrible shock," said Jerome Genest, a local community leader and member of the Organization of Ile-à-Vache Farmers (KOPI), which is fighting the project along with several other groups.

The Haitian government is now promoting Ile-à-Vache as an ecotourism project, key to its efforts to put impoverished Haiti back on the Caribbean tourism map.

MAKING WAY FOR HOTELS

Fifty years ago, before the country was swept by political turmoil, an HIV-Aids epidemic and the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was a popular destination for the likes of rock singer Mick Jagger and writer Graham Greene, as well as Bill and Hillary, who honeymooned there.

In the interim it became a pariah for pleasure seekers, standing by enviously as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico cornered the $28 billion Caribbean tourism market.   Continued...

 
Special police patrol stand guard before the arrival by helicopter of Haiti's Minister of Tourism in Madame Bernard, the main town of Ile-a-Vache island, off Haiti's south coast, March 26, 2014. REUTERS/stringer