The Miami Herald published an article on Friday entitled "New School, New Hope for Young Haitians" about Royal Caribbean Cruises building a new school in Labadee on the 260 acres which it leases from the Haitian government.
The article points out that the new 6,500-square-foot campus consists of six buildings, twelve classrooms, administrative offices and a computer lab. Around 230 students from nearby villages, from kindergarten to fifth grade, will study at the new school.
The construction was overseen by a Miami company Innovida which used lightweight yet sturdy materials which can withstand an earthquake and high winds.
As much as a school facility like this was needed in Haiti, I could not help but to think what a meager expenditure a project like this represents considering the financial resources of this cruise line. It made me think of two basic questions:
1. What, if anything, has Royal Caribbean done for Haiti in the last 25 years?
Royal Caribbean has been in Haiti for over 25 years. This is the first development of anything remotely benefiting the local people. The cruise line was roundly criticized when it sailed into its "private destination" in Labadee earlier this year, after the devastating earthquake to the south in Port-au-Prince, a PR nightmare which I wrote about in an article "Royal Caribbean "Returns" to its Trademarked, Private Fantasy Island of Labadee® – While Haiti Suffers."
The Miami Herald article mentions that the new school cost only $425,000 to build. Royal Caribbean collects over $6,000,000,000 (billion) a year and pays no U.S. Federal income tax because it is incorporated in Liberia and its cruise ships fly foreign flags. Its last "investment" in Haiti was the multi-million dollar zip line amusement ride in its "private destination" of Labadee for the exclusive of its paying guests. Haitians are kept on the other side of the cruise line’s barb wire fence.
Everytime a cruise ship like the Oasis of the Seas sails with 5,000 or 6,000 passengers to Labadee, the cruise line collects millions and millions of dollars in cruise fare each cruise. An investment of $425,000 from a corporation like this is peanuts.
2. What, if anything, does the cruise line plan to do in the future?
There was some talk about this being one of, maybe, two schools to be built in Haiti. That’s it. I doubt that there will be a second school. I hope I am wrong. But there are no discussions of anything resembling a multi-million dollar building project, like you see when a new port is constructed and hundreds of millions of dollars are budgeted.
Is this the extent of the cruise line’s investment in the host country? When you think of what commitment really means, is $425,000 reflective of this cruise line’s sense of loyalty and duty to Haiti? Probably so.
Seems like a pittance.
There are a number of online photographs of the school opening, such as the Innovide’s Royal Caribbean School photo page.
You can see Royal Caribbean’s CEO, Richard Fain, attending the opening ceremony, cutting the royal blue ribbons, standing in front of the sign for the "Royal Caribbean" school, posing in front of a banner proclaiming the opening of the "Royal Caribbean" school," and smiling for the camera in front of Haitian school children wearing "Royal Caribbean" blue polo shirts emblazened with the "Royal Caribbean" name and the "Royal Caribbean" logo.
These photos make me feel rather squeamish. Is this a marketing stunt?
When I clicked on Fain’s Chairman’s Blog, I could not help but note that one of the first comments to his article about the new school reads as folllows:
"I really love the RCI brand, but was it necessary to brand all of the kids?"
December 4, 2010 Update: Interested in a true commitment by a corporation to education? Read: What the Cruise Industry Has to Learn From My Cousins Back in Arkansas
Photo 1: Innovide
Photo 2: Ricahrd Fain’s Chairman’s Blog