PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A plan to transform a small Caribbean island off the southern coast of Haiti into a high-end resort will create more than 2,000 jobs and help change the image of this impoverished country, the prime minister said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe also denied allegations by some residents that the government will evict hundreds of poor farmers to complete the project.
Lamothe said that the development on Ile-a-Vache will be the most ambitious tourism project ever in Haiti and that critics who have clashed with police in protests do not fully appreciate the benefits.
"This will bring the hope for a better future for all the residents of Ile-a-Vache," Lamothe said by phone while in Chile. "We definitely have no plans to evict anyone."
The $260 million project being built with a combination of foreign aid and private investment is scheduled to be completed in two years. It includes condos, spas, a community radio station and an international airport that will allow foreigners to bypass chaotic Port-au-Prince.
Lamothe said there will be more than 2,000 jobs in hotels, plus work building schools and a community center.
Work has begun on the airport, a $24 million gift from Venezuela's government, amid a series of protests that began last year after the government announced it was seizing land for the project on the island of 15,000 people, many of them farmers and fishermen.
"All of sudden, the decree comes out, and they're taking away land to give to foreigners," said MacDonald Laine, a 27-year-old resident who has lived on the island his whole life.
Laine and his neighbors formed the Organization of Ile-a-Vache Farmers to protect their land, saying it's been passed down for generations.
They began staging tire-burning protests, and police were sent to the island to quell the dissent. A few residents said police beat them. They promise more demonstrations unless the government rescinds the decree.
Lamothe said the protests are being led by a small group of people that he alleges have ties to organized crime networks trying to smuggle marijuana through the area.
People in 100 homes will have to be relocated to make way for resorts, Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin said.
"There's going to be some compensation for people who live right there," she said.