Closing Jacmel’s Commercial Port to Make a Convention Center Would Be Disastrous

Jacmel’s port, created in 1802, is now slated to be closed and turned into a cultural center.

There would be no social organization without “economic activity”. There would be no economic activity without trading infrastructure such as a market and a commercial port. And there would be no trade without implementing a public policy of guaranteeing investment, the population’s participation, and the permanent operation of a port in a city with a commercial tradition: Jacmel.

Since Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492, and even before with the Vikings, the Americas have been an integral part of world trade. The Americas satisfied Europe’s economic needs in spices, raw materials, and precious metals, since the continent was blocked to the East by the Turks since the fall of the Roman Empire.

Today, the world economy, dominated by the U.S., Europe, and China, is characterized by large-scale trade across the seas using commercial ports and customs as the principal place for the exchange of products.

So what could possibly be the rationale of Jacmel’s political, cultural, and economic elites to eliminate the city’s commercial port? What would be the consequences? And how will Jacmel’s population react to such a decision?

The spelling of Jacmel derives from the name of a French pirate, Jacques Melo. The city was founded in 1698, and its commercial port was created 104 years later, on Jun. 24, 1802, with the landing in the colony of Saint Domingue of the expeditionary French troops under the command of General Leclerc. It was one of four ports opened to commerce by Leclerc to receive cattle needed to feed his army. Jacmel was Haiti’s first electrified city in 1925, under the presidency of Louis Borno. Among the most flourishing periods of Jacmel’s commercial port were 1848/1906, 1906/1922, and 1970/1980. During these periods, trade flourished, and the export of Haitian coffee defied all regional competition. This is not nostalgia. But a review of the past can help us understand the present.

Japanese rice being unloaded at Jacmel’s port.

Jacmel’s customs house was created in 1934 by President Sténio Vincent. Is it to pay tribute to Vincent that political leaders are choosing to eliminate it 80 years later? Do the local economic and intellectual elite want Jacmel to never be a prosperous city?

Under President Michel Martelly, in 2014, a surreptitious multi-million dollar project, financed by Haiti’s PetroCaribe fund, was initiated: the closing of Jacmel’s commercial port in order to build a convention center, a cultural space. The small artisinal commerce in the lower part of the city is completely disappearing. Jacmel’s elites would have us believe that they have found a magic formula to uplift the city’s people from their extreme poverty. So they have provided objectives for this project: to carry out official meetings and cultural activities for the people “from above.” In other words, galas, conferences, meetings, and events, all of which would be alienating, futile, vain, and useless reflections, diverting resources from meeting the urgent daily needs of Jacmel’s population. This convention center will only reinforce the department’s capitalist economy, in a backward sense, by granting an exclusive monopoly of a public institution, the Jacmel customs, to a single person or family.

Customs, airports, and the General Directorates of Taxes (DGI) are the main providers of revenues for the State. So is it not an absurd idea to close a commercial port?

I consider this closure to be an economic catastrophe whose consequences are already at the door of Jacmelian families. Families are becoming more impoverished, with children and young people increasingly falling into prostitution and delinquency. There is a proliferation of brothels, discos, and bars, and the financing of rara bands (bann-a-pye) to divert the youth’s attention from the real and fundamental problems that threaten their future: unemployment, illiteracy, poor schools, prostitution within and outside school, juvenile corruption, banditry, and so on.

To remedy this situation, Jacmel’s youth and citizenry must decide to:

1) Form an association or organization, to discuss the major problems facing Jacmel and the department of the South-east in general, and then to make proposals to political leaders;

2) Take energetic action when no one hears their cries of distress;

3) Demand and fight for their integration into the circles deciding the department’s future.

We are the future leaders of this country that ignores our existence. We cannot allow mostly incompetent leaders to decide our fate. The future of this country rests on our ability to understand today’s society and our willingness to act for its transformation.

Firson Pierre is a sociology student at the State University of Haiti’s School of Human Sciences (FASCH).


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