Cruise Ships, Haitian Relief and the Paradox of Poverty

Labadee Beach, Haiti

Labadee Beach, Haiti, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Two stories appeared side by side in my browser today. The first discusses the challenges Haiti is facing getting relief supplies into the capital.  The extensive damage caused by last week’s earthquake left Port au Prince’s port facilities in ruin and the airport is overwhelmed by traffic. The vast majority of the estimated $1 billion in aid pledged by the international community remains in warehouses, waiting shipment to the people in need in Haiti.

The second story dealt with a new controversy: the decision of the cruise company Royal Caribbean to continue to bring passengers to Labadee, a private beach leased by the company on Haiti’s northern coast. Located less than 100 miles from Port au Prince. The decision has generated some controversy (to say the least), with lots of people chiming in (pro and con) on the CNN blog.  Some passengers on a recent trip described the idea of vacationing on Haitian beaches while “tens of thousands of dead people are being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water” as “sickening.” Royal Caribbean defended the visits, noting that “We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti…Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most.”

The disparity of 3,000 wealthy vacationers visiting scenic Haitian beaches while tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince’s new homeless wander the streets in search of food and water is indeed dystopian. But the contradictions of poverty amid plenty are not unique to Haiti. Rather, the two stories merely bring to light global disparities between rich and poor. The central question moving forward should be how to we address the problem of global poverty which set the foundation for the disaster in Haiti.

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