Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Holiday in Haiti?

By David G. Young

Cap Haitien, Haiti, November 25, 2014 --  

Haiti's tourism renaissance is off to a very rough start.

When thugs wielding axes, bottles, sticks and stones ran at us from the highway blockade in northern Haiti, we knew it was time to turn back.  A local dispute over electricity had blocked the highway to the border of the Dominican Republic for two days, halting all public transportation by road.

The blockade between the towns of Terrier Rouge and Fort Liberte on Highway 6 is rudimentary to say the least.  The pavement is gouged out with a trench about two feet wide and equally deep and covered with branches. Young men manning the checkpoint serve as judges of who can pass.  While it initially seemed our group of American visitors would be allowed to cross on foot, the approaching thugs had other ideas.

Hastily hopping motorcycle taxis back toward Cap Hatien, the country's shabby but charming second city, we darted off to the newly renovated international airport to arrange a flight to the Dominican Republic.  It was this same airport that had lured us to the area, with a new daily flight from Miami that started just last month.1

La Citadelle ©2014 David G. Young

The region is hopeful that new international flights will bring a rebirth of tourism after a quarter century absence.  In addition to the colonial architecture of the port city, a nearby mountaintop hosts the country's premiere tourist site at the largest fortress in the western hemisphere known as La  Citadelle.  The ruins of La Citadelle are sparsely visited, but they are easily one of the most spectacular sites in the Western Hemisphere both for their massive size and spectacular setting. Meanwhile, nearby Labadie already hosts cruise ship visitors on a private beach.

But the blockaded road to the Dominican Republic is a poignant reminder that Haiti has a long, long way to go to attract visitors.   There were no police present to deal with the outlaws, and the local attitude about the blocked highway was easily summed up by “try again tomorrow.”

An equally troublesome sight is omnipresent in Cap Haitien. The colonial streets are plied by white United Nations vehicles, a side effect of the international aid presence that followed the 2010 earthquake that leveled Port Au Prince.  While the  earthquake did not hit the north coast, the near failed state that resulted from the devastation of the capital affected all corners of the country.

Today, the fancy seaside resorts that once dotted the coast during the regime of Papa Doc Duvalier are  long gone -- they have all moved to the Dominican Republic.  Will they return? 

The fact that a group of tourists had to use the newly refurbished airport to flee to the Dominican Republic within a few weeks of the first Miami flights suggests that a new era of Haitian tourism is off to a very rough start.

1. Miami Herald, American Airlines adds Cap-Haitien flights from Miami, October 2, 2014