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CRUISES BOOST ECONOMY.

The turquoise bay ringed by ruins of a 19th century plantation and crimson-flowered flamboyant trees is everything the tourist brochures promise -- tranquil waters, pristine beaches, good food, exotic local culture. But few tourists realize they've taken a cruise to Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, reports AP (April 19, 2003). "Can you see Haiti from here?" asks Linda Tracy, 59, of Camden, Maine, disembarking from the cruise ship Explorer of the Seas with 3,400 other passengers who scurry toward banana boats, Jet Skis and art stalls:

Since 1986, the Royal Caribbean line has provided the largest source of tourism revenue to Haiti, sometimes bringing more than 7,000 tourists a week. Each passenger pays a US$6 tax to the government, which comes to more than US$2 million a year, and more than 200 or so Haitians are paid to attend to them as bartenders, musicians and cabana boys, reports AP (April 19, 2003). The jobs are a blessing in a country where political instability has stunted growth, leaving two-thirds of workers without jobs;

Ron Winslow, a customer service representative from Akron, Ohio said he had to research his travel itinerary to realize he was going to Haiti. Some passengers were told only that they were headed to Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Most said they were told they were going to a private beach off the coast of Haiti. Royal Caribbean's Web site refers to the bay as "Labadee, Hispaniola." Another section calls the beach, on Haiti's north coast, a "private island."

Michael Sheehan, a company spokesman, said the company leases Labadie Beach from Societee Labadie Nord SA, which puts on the entertainment. It also provides rifle-toting guards on days there are no cruise ships, usually Wednesday through Sunday, when they allow in Haitian tourists who can afford it. "On cruise ship days, this place is very different," says Jean-Arrol Santel, 32, a beach supervisor who earns about 2,000 Haitian dollars (US$400) a month. Maryse Penette-Kedar, president of Societee Labadie, which is known by the acronym Solano, said more jobs could be created if the brisk business continues. "Solano is the No. 1 employer in the north, with more than US$1 million of payroll a year";

On Mondays and Tuesdays, cruise ships sail into the harbor and small boats ferry thousands of people across the idyllic bay. They flock to hear Haitian musicians, slurp pi?a coladas and snack on hot dogs and hamburgers brought from the ship. Some jump on inflatable jungle gyms in the water, then run back to the beach to collapse on lounge chairs. The excursions last about seven hours. Then they're off to their next Caribbean stop. For those locked outside the gates of Labadie, the rewards are slim. Many craft vendors stand outside, hoping the stall operators will buy their cha-cha rattles and paintings that sell at a 30% profit inside. Other people rummage through garbage in search of leftover food.

***

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Title Annotation:Haiti
Publication:Caribbean Update
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:500
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