It’s business as usual for The Independence of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International cruise lines, which has docked at Labadee Beach, s
January 24, 2010


It’s business as usual for The Independence of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International cruise lines, which has docked at Labadee Beach, sixty miles from the ruins of Haiti’s earthquake hell.

Who, in their right mind, would even want to go to 'a walled resort', where 'pristine beaches and breathtaking scenery' are patrolled by armed guards to protect clients from all that 'native charm' in the first place, particularly now when there’s the risk desperate people might break through the resort's 12ft high fences in search of food and fresh water…

... oh, wait. Fat white men with pockets full of viagra.

After all, according to Pat Robertson, that is what separates 'cursed' Haiti from the prosperous and clean Dominican Republic - resorts. 'Hundreds' of Haitians are employed by Royal Caribbean – apparently 230, but enough for the plural – but I guess a little thing like having your entire country ravished by an earthquake isn't covered by their employment benefits. The company can't suspend operation to Haiti and still afford to keep these 'hundreds' of people on the payroll until the country buries the tens of thousands of dead and starts to rebuild? Damn, they must not be charging their customers enough! But that is, of course, why there are any customers in the first place; cheap holidays.

Impoverished countries from the Caribbean to south-east Asia provide a huge cheap labour pool as well as land for holidaymakers to relax in style. The Haitian private beach of Ladabee is no different than other gated resorts, if perhaps a bit top-heavy on the armed guards. Cruise ships rely on poor countries – as well as conveniently grey legislation allowing American companies to sail under Panamanian and Liberian flags of convenience – to keep their standards of luxury affordable. After all, the economy isn’t what it used to be, even for the rich folks.

Oh, but Royal Caribbean is also transporting food for the Haitians, 40 pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water and canned food. That's nice. I can’t help but wonder, however, how much more food as well as medicine, and doctors and nurses and maybe even people like engineers and carpenters and electricians and plumbers with building supplies for shelters could they transport if they turfed out the fat white men with pockets full of viagra from those 4,370 berths to make room? Royal Caribbean owns 42 ships, surely one of them can be used for something other than floating rock-climbing walls, miniature golf, lounges and restaurants, casinos, swimming pools, solariums, loft suites and flow-riders and zip-lines and aqua-theatres, whatever the hell those are, even ice-skating rinks.

Tourism for Haiti might be a vital industry... in the long run. In the short run, the last thing on most Haitians' minds right now is servicing rich fat white men with pockets full of viagra or selling junky tourist souvenirs, all those straw market vendors and hair-braiders smiling smiling smiling as they try to make enough to feed the kids a bit busy now digging them out of the rubble. If cruise ships and resorts were serious about 'helping' Haiti, it would suspend tourist trips and turn one of their ships into a hospital ship, or at least transportation for the thousands of desperately ill to hospitals still standing.

Meanwhile, while the Moby Dicks sun themselves on those pristine beaches and enjoy fruit and umbrella cocktails with the captain on the cruise ships, thousands of homeless Haitians have swamped every available ferry, hoping to be evacuated. The Trois Rivieres has only been given 1,500 gallons of fuel to evacuate as many people as they can to Jeremie, on Haiti’s far western tip. Hundreds of people have waited days, carrying everything they have left in plastic bags or suitcases or bedsheets, the wharf littered with rubbish and human excrement, the ground cracked from the earthquake – a far cry from the luxury enjoyed by rich tourists only sixty miles away.

The ferry is licensed to only carry 600, but on its last trip to Port Jeremie, it ferried over 3,000. Those who couldn’t make it onto the ferry were crowding into anything that floats that they can find, row boats so overcrowded they’re in danger of sinking. Even a single Haitian coast guard boat sent to try to control the masses trying to board the Trois Rivieres was swamped with people trying to flee.

Tens of thousands of children orphaned by the earthquake, some too young to even tell aide workers their names, are living on the streets, with nowhere to go and no one to care for them. Nine-year-old Haryssa Keem Clerge was buried alive for two days, screaming in pain while neighbours dug her out with bare hands – they didn’t get to her in time, and her body left on the hood of a car, nowhere to take it. An eleven year old girl miraculously rescued from the rubble was rushed to a first aide station but died as doctors were not sufficiently equipped to deal with her injuries and her family couldn’t drive her to the hospital outside Port-au-Prince. Rescue workers are still digging people, alive and dead, out of the shattered city – and adding them to the tens of thousands who have nowhere to go. But why let that spoil a barbecue on the beach, or a bit of jet-skiing?

But the beneficent folks at Royal Caribbean have announced the company would donate 100% of the proceeds from its call at Labadee to the relief effort, and pledged $1m to the relief effort. After all, they’ve just spent $55 million upgrading Labadee, they’ve got a lot of investment in the peninsula. It only makes sound financial sense to protect your assets.

I’m sure that’s of great comfort to the thousands of injured still waiting for medical treatment and the homeless desperate to escape from hell.

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