As Haiti takes stock of the damage wrought by Hurricane Matthew this week, critics have renewed their scrutiny of relief efforts — many of them sponsored by the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's State Department — that failed to alleviate the country's suffering after a massive earthquake there in 2010.
A small group of Haitian-Americans gathered outside the New York City offices of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Thursday to protest his refusal to look into the Clinton Foundation's finances. The same group, known as the Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti, has held several demonstrations throughout the campaign in an attempt to highlight the foundation's failures.
Donald Trump brought up the bungled Haiti relief efforts during a campaign rally on Tuesday, arguing foundation donors "have seen the Clintons pave the way for their investments."
"In one deal, Hillary Clinton set aside environmental and labor rules to help a South Korean company with a record of violating workers' rights set up what amounts to a sweat shop in Haiti," Trump said at the North Carolina event. "The facility has produced only a fraction of the jobs it promised and faces reports of wage theft. People are asking: where did all the money go?"
The Republican nominee was almost certainly referring to the Caracol Industrial Park — a sprawling business complex on the northern end of the island that arose out of earthquake relief efforts.
Perhaps no Clinton Foundation endeavor better highlights the consequences of marrying politics and philanthropy than the staggering failure of the Caracol Industrial Park, once the flagship project of the Haiti reconstruction effort.
The foundation promised it would one day create up to 60,000 jobs for northern Haitians while revitalizing the country's flagging garment industry. As of September 2015 — three years after the park was completed and officially opened for business — it was home to just 8,648 jobs, according to a generous estimate from a local newspaper. Other estimates continue to place the number of jobs in the Caracol complex around 2,000.
When the Caracol Industrial Park finally opened for business in October 2012, Hillary and Bill Clinton were joined by celebrities like Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, Donna Karan and Richard Branson for a star-studded ceremony that hailed the complex's opening as the dawn of a "new day" for Haiti. But the park has never come close to fulfilling those expectations.
The complex was initially envisioned as a source of both temporary construction and long-term jobs just outside Port-au-Prince, where the earthquake had hit Haiti hardest physically and economically. However, the ease of acquiring land from poor farmers in the north drew the project site 166 miles upward to Caracol, a deeply impoverished fishing village with a population of fewer than 6,500 Haitians. By way of comparison, Port-au-Prince is home to more than 700,000 people. Somehow, though, backers of the complex hoped it would attract enough displaced locals to fill the promised 60,000 jobs, even though that represented more than 10 times the entire population of the surrounding community.
The U.S. Agency for International Development — an arm of the State Department whose Haitian relief operations were under the control of Cheryl Mills, then Hillary Clinton's chief of staff — vowed the park would attract private investments that would, in turn, spark economic growth.
Besides the fact that the facility's location meant earthquake relief funds were being concentrated far from the scene of the earthquake, USAID's sweeping promises of economic empowerment belied a potentially self-serving motivation.
The year before the earthquake hit Haiti and provided an opportunity for foreign development intervention on such a massive scale, Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University, wrote a high-profile report addressed to Ban Ki-moon, then the secretary-general of the U.N., that outlined suggestions for working with the Haitian economy. Collier described a major "market opportunity" for the U.S. given recent legislation that stripped tariffs from textile imports from Haiti and the "cheap" but "good quality" labor available there. That report has been linked to the well-timed push for a garment factory in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In April 2010, just three months after the disaster, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate put forward a bill, the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act, that dramatically expanded duty-free benefits for Haitian textile imports, more than doubling the size of the tariff waiver.
Months later, a South Korean textile conglomerate, Sae-A, signed on to become a financial backer of Caracol Industrial Park and vowed to be its largest tenant in a deal that had reportedly been in the works long before the earthquake struck. That deal was only moved forward after Bill Clinton was named the UN's special envoy to Haiti, but it predated the U.S. push for legislation that conveniently created a voracious customer for textiles in Haiti's backyard.
As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton reportedly lobbied South Korean officials for Sae-A's participation in the Haitian park project and even hosted executives from the garment manufacturer in Washington, D.C., to seal the deal.
Sae-A supplies garments to well-known U.S. brands like Target, Walmart, Gap and Old Navy. When the HELP Act was pending in the Senate and the House, it was Gap's senior director of sourcing and production that testified before Congress about why the trade legislation was necessary, although the Haitian deal with Gap's major garment supplier had not yet been made public. Sae-A ultimately pledged $78 million to pay for the construction of the park and vowed to hire 20,000 Haitians to produce textiles in the facility. The Inter-American Development Bank pledged $55 million. The price tag for the park ultimately grew to around $300 million, with U.S. taxpayers picking up most of the tab.
The Clinton Foundation worked to publicize the project.
Bill Clinton infamously declared in 2011, as construction heated up, that "this [industrial park] will be the match that strikes the fire and gets things going." But there are a number of reasons why Caracol Industrial Park has failed to live up to the promises USAID made to the Haitian people. Without consulting locals near the site of the sprawling industrial complex, the Haitian government, the State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank signed away roughly 300 family-owned farming plots in order to build the park.
Some observers speculated that the complex was moved to Caracol in anticipation of a USAID-funded port that was initially set for construction there, which would have eased the shipment of exports. But after USAID scuttled the port plans, Sae-A was forced — perhaps ironically — to move its textiles to market in trucks driven seven hours over Haiti's crumbling roads to Port-au-Prince, the original site of the park.
After Haitians won a hard-fought wage hike in 2013, which still only raised Haitians' pay from 58 cents to 65 cents per hour, a Workers' Rights Consortium study published later in the year found the factories at Caracol Industrial Park refused to pay their employees the new wage.
The Clintons have weathered criticism for a number of other Haiti-related entanglements that emerged during the reconstruction effort.
Hillary Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham, secured a difficult-to-obtain permit in 2012 that allowed his company to begin mining for gold in Haiti.
Denis O'Brien, a longtime donor and friend to the Clintons, secured a multimillion dollar contract from Hillary Clinton's State Department to hand out free cellphones to Haitians through his telecommunications company. O'Brien also invested in a luxury hotel at the behest of Bill Clinton.
And Warren Buffett, another Clinton Foundation donor, was tapped to provide shelters that sickened displaced earthquake victims because they were laced with formaldehyde.
Most observers have agreed that the relief effort in Haiti was beset on all sides by failure and cronyism. It was a pattern certainly not limited to the Clintons' activities there.
But Hillary Clinton's State Department fought to preserve its image in the face of mounting evidence that its work in Haiti was shoddy.
For example, Judith McHale, a top agency official, wrote in a Feb. 2010 email of developing a "plan" to combat unflattering press.
"[W]e waged a very successful campaign against the negative stories concerning our involvement in Haiti," she said.
Other emails that have been made public by the State Department showed the overlap between Mills and foundation employees as they navigated the fast-paced relief efforts.
In all, the U.S. spent $3.6 billion on Haitian aid in the aftermath of the earthquake.
By the end of 2011, the Clinton Foundation had exhausted $60,500,000 on "Haiti relief and recovery efforts."
Hillary Clinton's allies have defended the foundation from allegations of facilitating favoritism by pointing to its volume of philanthropic accomplishments around the world.
Sen. Tim Kaine, her running mate, dismissed suggestions this week that the Democratic nominee had allowed donors to sway her leadership of the State Department, claiming during the vice presidential debate that he was "glad" to discuss the Clinton Foundation's accomplishments.
But few of the foundation's defenders have ever even mentioned the millions that disappeared in Haiti during Hillary Clinton's State Department tenure.
That's because the Clinton Foundation's legacy in Haiti remains among the most controversial chapters in its history.