IDB settles accountability case in Haiti, granting land to farmers

Members of the collective vote to approve an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank and Haitian government that gives them access to land and employment opportunities. Photo by: Accountability Counsel

WASHINGTON — Nine years after a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti, a group of Haitian farmers won a settlement with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Haitian government after demonstrating they were adversely impacted by a bank-financed industrial park built on land seized in 2011.

“I know personally of no other case where communities who’ve lost land have received actual land or the ability to purchase new land as a result of an accountability office process. So that’s how rare it is: perhaps never.”

— Natalie Bridgeman Fields, executive director, Accountability Counsel

The Caracol Industrial Park in northeast Haiti was funded by IDB to spur development following the 2010 earthquake. The group of farmers, known as the Kolektif Peyizan Viktim Tè Chabè, filed a formal complaint to IDB’s accountability arm, the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism or MICI, in January 2017 with the help of ActionAid Haiti and a local NGO, Action for Reforestation and Environmental Defense, or AREDE.

“It’s historic because of the fact that it’s the first time that a group of farmers or peasants have been displaced in favor of a megaproject like the Caracol Park and then their voice has been heard and ... the government and the bank that were involved really take corrective measures,” said Milostene Castin, coordinator of AREDE, through an interpreter.

“It’s a huge victory not only for the collective, not only for the community in northeast area, but for the whole country,” Castin said.

In a formal complaint to MICI, the farmers said they were not properly consulted before the park was constructed and were not given an appropriate amount of time to move off their land. While IDB did offer compensation to those who were being displaced, the farmers said it was not enough to offset permanent loss of livelihood and some families did not receive anything.

Nearly every multilateral development bank has an inspection panel that will examine complaints brought by people who say they were negatively impacted by a bank project. The World Bank was the first multilateral development bank to have an accountability mechanism, formed in 1993. MICI was established in 2010, and has two phases for complaints. The “consultation phase” allows people claiming negative impacts of a bank project to seek a moderated solution, and the “compliance review phase” examines whether any bank policies were violated during the project in question.

The collective’s complaint was found eligible for the consultation phase by MICI and the dialogue process between the farmers, IDB, and the Haitian government’s Technical Execution Unit of the Ministry of Economy and Finance began in June 2017. It was overseen by ActionAid Haiti, AREDE, and Accountability Counsel, an NGO that advocates for people who say they were harmed by internationally financed projects.

“This agreement means a lot in the fact that it outlines the resilience of the community and the solidarity between local organizations and also international organizations, which is something that ActionAid has promoted,” said Angeline Annesteus, program manager at ActionAid Haiti.

An estimated 4,000 people were impacted by Caracol Park’s construction, and the dialogue process included technical surveys to measure the losses experienced by members of the collective and their families. The complaint also sought to examine the environmental impact of the park.

Through an IDB spokesperson, MICI declined to comment, citing the ongoing status of the case.

The initial consultation phase was one year but was extended in June 2018 by six months. MICI, IDB, and the Haitian government agreed that the consultations would examine the possibility of a resettlement action plan, a revision of compensation payments, and mechanisms to restore livelihoods of the displaced people. After six rounds of dialogue, the parties reached an agreement on December 8, 2018, just ahead of the new deadline.

While the exact terms of the agreement are not publicly disclosed, a summary shows that the parties agreed to terms in two main categories: corrective measures to restore livelihoods, and measures concerning environmental and social impacts of the park.

The agreement entitles employment at the park for one member of each displaced family, totaling about 400 people who will get jobs. Most of them will be sewing jobs, but there will be about 30 more specialized roles. A second household member can choose between additional options for restoring livelihoods: 100 people who don’t currently own land will get access to land to resume agricultural activities while those who already own land can gain access to agricultural equipment and technology. The additional family member could also participate in small business training with access to microcredit or vocational training at a regional institution.

Families will also receive two kits with school supplies to help offset educational costs, and the Haitian government and IDB will facilitate an event where people can learn more about organizations in the area that offer access to microcredit.

With regards to environmental and social impacts, IDB said it intends to improve solid waste and wastewater treatment at Caracol Industrial Park. It will also strengthen the grievance mechanism for complaints both inside and outside the park.

“I know personally of no other case where communities who’ve lost land have received actual land or the ability to purchase new land as a result of an accountability office process. So that’s how rare it is: perhaps never. I can’t say that for a fact because a lot of the information is not public about those types of agreements that are reached,” said Natalie Bridgeman Fields, executive director of Accountability Counsel.

“This is by far the most successful result from the MICI process that we’ve seen, and I would say it’s one of the most successful cases of all the cases we’ve been involved in,” she said.

The implementing and monitoring phase will last for five years, and Accountability Counsel and ActionAid Haiti intend to stay involved to ensure the terms of the settlement are carried out.

“This agreement is not just an agreement for people in Haiti,” Castin said. “We [set] a good precedence for the fight that small peasants around the world have against land grabbing, against the violation of their rights, against social exclusions.”

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.

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