It’s difficult to imagine a starker contrast between wealth and poverty.
A few weeks ago, a 4,400-berth luxury liner from Florida-based Royal Caribbean International docked at a private Caribbean peninsula and disembarked its passengers for a day of water fun, cocktails, food and open market shopping. The peninsula, with five beaches, is called Labadee, and is protected by armed guards and a 12-foot-high fence.
The port call was like many before. Except for one thing: That same day, an hour’s drive south from the beaches, Haitians were clawing at rubble to find survivors of a devastating earthquake several days before. Food and water were in desperately short supply, and people were dying in the streets from untreated severe injuries.
Cruise company officials defended the Haitian holiday stop, although they acknowledged debating the propriety of delivering “a vacation experience so close to the epicenter of an earthquake.”
“In the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti’s recovery; hundreds of people rely on Labadee for their livelihood,” said one vice president, according to the Guardian Online. The company donated $1 million to relief efforts, as well as dozens of pallets of food and supplies, delivered on their ships during the port calls. And Haiti’s government collects a tariff of $6 per person ashore in Labadee, which in recent years has been about 40,000 every month.
How could anyone not have the reaction of this one cruise passenger, who refused to get off the ship: “I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water.”