In 1986, Royal Caribbean shook hands with the tyrant Baby Doc Duvalier (middle photo) to seal a deal where it obtained exclusive control of 260 acres of sovereign waterfront land from Haiti. Royal Caribbean trademarked it's new "private island" - "Labadee®" - derived from the name of the 1600's French plantation baron and slave owner Marquis de La'Badie. It then erected a 12 foot high security fence around its "island" and hired armed security guards to keep the impoverished Haitians out.
For the past twenty years Royal Caribbean exploited Haiti. Labadee became a private resort where its mostly U.S. cruise passengers pay hundreds of dollars each to buy alcohol, pay for a private cabana, rent jet skis, para-sail or, more recently, zip line. All of this money leaves Haiti and goes straight to the cruise line's coffers in Miami.
Royal Caribbean does not pay Haiti anything. Instead, the deal it struck with the despot Baby Doc requires only that the U.S. tax-paying passengers pay $6 each to have the privilege to lounge around Royal Caribbean's "private destination." Royal Caribbean has perfected its business of avoiding paying its fair share. The cruise line incorporated itself in Africa and registered its cruise ships in Africa and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. taxes, safety regulations, labor and wage laws.
Royal Caribbean claims that Haiti benefits from this arrangement. Yes, there are minimally paid Haitians working as cocktail waiters and cooks who are appreciative of having a job. But many critics point out that most of the Royal Caribbean employees in Labadee come from countries other than Haiti. In an article entitled "Haiti, Cruise Ships, and Colonialism in the 21st Century," the popular blog Feministing reveals that the Royal Caribbean employees in Labadee are not Haitians but come from:
". . . Indonesia, the Philippines, Romania, Turkey, etc. There was one, maybe two RC employees on Labadee from Haiti."
This criticism is not new.
On "Fantasy Island: Royal Carribean Parcels Off a Piece of Haiti, Catherine Orenstein described Royal Caribbean temporarily suspending its cruises to Labadee when Haitians protested the few number of Haitians employed there. Cruises resumed only when Royal Caribbean agreed to increase the number of Haitian employees and to let a local band perform at their site.
Criticism of Royal Caribbean continues. Yesterday was a particularly brutal day for the cruise line PR people. Newsweek magazine joined the ranks of those questioning Royal Caribbean's corporate morality in an article "Setting Sail on a Haitian Pleasure Cruise - the Moral and Economic Dilemmas of Royal Caribbean's Labadee Port."
On the same day, the widely respected non-profit organization, Center for Responsible Travel, issued a press release chastising Royal Caribbean for not doing enough. The non-profit group characterized the cruise line's move as "unsound" and a "colossal public relations faux pas."
This sentiment echoes the criticism by PR experts in Advertising Age's "Royal Caribbean Blasted for Continuing Stops in Haiti" where the consensus is that this was a "massive debacle" which may have long term damage to the Royal Caribbean "brand."
The Feministing blog admonished Royal Caribbean for taking advantage of the incredibly poor country of Haiti and urged its readers to consider going on a cruise line other than Royal Caribbean "or tell them that these practices are unacceptable."
And hip Daily Kos bloggers pointed out the dis-connect between Royal Caribbean supplying extra lounge chairs to a hospital when surgeons desperately needed hack saws and medicine. Meanwhile cruise tourists continue to enjoy Royal Caribbean's zip line, (YouTube video below), one of the cruise line's much touted "investments" in Haiti.
Several weeks ago, TV evangelist Pat Robertson claimed that the Haitians are cursed because they "made a deal with the devil" to free themselves from slavery 200 years ago. Although preacher Robertson was openly ridiculed for such a preposterous notion, I for one believe in curses. Not that Haiti is cursed at all, mind you, (and no doubt that Reverend Robertson is becoming increasingly delusional). But, yes there are curses. Whether you call them bad karma, voodoo, superstition, what goes-around-come-around, don't tempt fate, don't tug on Superman's cape, an eye-for-an-eye, or there-goes-I-but-for-the-grace-of-God.
Twenty three years ago, Royal Caribbean shook the bloody hand of dictator Baby Doc Duvalier. A deal with the devil, no doubt. Since then, Royal Caribbean sucked hundreds of millions of dollars out of Haiti while the destitute country languished. But what goes around comes around. Royal Caribbean released its 2009 fourth quarter results yesterday, earning only 3.4 million dollars on gross revenues of 1.4 billion dollars. If it had to pay U.S. taxes, it would file for bankruptcy.
This cruise line's economic future is questionable. Many tourists will shy away from the zip lines in Labadee while Haitians languish on the other side of the security fence. Royal Caribbean's plans to unload over 6,000 passengers from its ostentatious Oasis of the Seas and, later, the extravagant Allure of the Seas seem increasingly fanciful and frivolous at this time of death and destruction.
Perhaps Pat Robertson was half-right. It's Royal Caribbean - not Haiti - which is cursed for making a deal with the devil . . .
Read our other articles on Ladabee:
Rime of the Ancient Mariner Artwork Iron Maiden Wallpaper
Baby Doc Duvalier photograph Guardian U.K.
Deal with the Devil Side Line Forum
YouTube zipline video FlaggerBoy