Haiti's Historic Sites a Cruise Excursion? Royal Caribbean the Steward of Henri Christophe's Legacy?
This weekend I ran across an interesting opinion piece from Caribbean News Now. Entitled "Turning Haiti's Historic Sites into Tourist Destinations," the article begins with a quote from an article I wrote in January 2010 following the horrific earthquake in Haiti:
Is it appropriate to sail into the idyllic port of Labadee, Haiti on a pleasure cruise when the dead remain unburied and the impoverished country writhes in chaos? (Cruise Law News, January 19, 2010)
The opinion piece was written by Anthony L. Hall, who publishes an interesting and well written blog called the iPinions Journal. Mr. Hall discusses developing tourism around two of Haiti's historic sites - the ruins of the Palais de Sans Souci, which was the residence of Henri Christophe, Haiti’s revolutionary war hero and first president, and the Citadelle Laferrière, which is a fort he built in anticipation of fighting off the French.
Mr. Hall is critical of Royal Caribbean's attitude toward Haiti, which he compares to " . . . resort developers throughout the Caribbean who have been invited over the years by local governments to treat vast areas of their pristine coastline as exclusive, almost hermetically sealed enclaves for visiting tourists."
But he is not content hurling "belated moral indignation" at what I have often characterized as the worst cruise line in the world. Instead, he suggests that if Royal Caribbean could develop these historical sites as shore excursions, and in the process raise money for a ten mile stretch of roadway from its private port of "Labadee," the cruise line might "make itself a better corporate citizen and earn an unprecedented amount of international goodwill."
In theory that would be great.
But Royal Caribbean as the steward of the historic residence and fort of the first President of free black Haiti?
From a historical perspective, it's a repugnant notion. The cruise line's private enclave of "Labadee®" is a name that Royal Caribbean trademarked as a variation of Marquis de La'Badie who settled in Haiti in the 1600's. That's right, Marquis de La'Badie, the French slave owner, whose descendants fought against Henri Christophe and his army of former black slaves.
Royal Caribbean wasn't thinking of the 1791 Slave Uprising or the Haitian revolution when its snabbed the 260 acres of sovereign Haitian land to create its own enclave. It ignored Haiti's black national hero when it went about marketing its slice of Haiti. So why should Royal Caribbean be trusted to be the steward of such historic sites when it already staked its presence on the island bearing the white de La'Badie slave owner name?
Putting history aside, there are practical business concerns that make it unlikely that Royal Caribbean will open up the gates and send its passengers outside of its barb wire fences which surround Labadee without expecting to make lots of money using the Citadelle as a shore excursion.
The cruise line makes tens of millions of dollars a month keeping the thousands of passengers locked in Labadee where their only sources of fun are drinking, renting jet skis, para-sailing, and zip lining.
For Royal Caribbean to invest in developing these sites, it would need a deal where the venture would be highly profitable and it would probably demand the name rights to market the project. Would it advertise these sites to its passengers as part of the Royal Caribbean "Private Destinations?"
Royal Caribbean has already drafted plans to develop the Citadelle for its guests. You can see the cruise line's plans here.
For the past 25 years, Royal Caribbean has accomplished little in Haiti outside of Labadee, other than a $425,000 school which it named after itself as a publicity stunt but it still could not figure out how to feed the school kids or provide them with transportation to the school bearing its name.
Mr. Hall's challenge to Royal Caribbean to rehabilitate its image and make itself a better corporate citizen is laudable. But this is a corporation which consistently underachieves when it comes to the interests of Haiti.
Royal Caribbean will never help Haiti develop the historical Haitian sites associated with Henri Christophe without demanding that it control the operation, name the project, and profit the most from it. It makes too much tax-free money keeping its passengers safely ensconced in its fantasy creation of Labadee®. And for historical reasons, the notion that a corporation like this should be the steward of the legacy of Henri Christophe is a farce.
For other articles about my view of Royal Caribbean and Haiti, consider reading:
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