Cruises no carnival for Haiti?

An aerial view of a Carnival Fantasy cruise underway, heading out to sea from Charleston Harbor. (Wade Spees/File)

The prime minister of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps the world, recently announced a pending $70 million foreign investment that would bring 900 jobs, and the reactions were ... well, mixed.

Laurent Lamothe was delighted to promote the idea of Carnival Cruiselines injecting life into the economy of Haiti's Tortuga Island.

But if reports in the Haiti Internet Newsletter are any indication, there is some local unease about the cruise industry's presence.

Specifically, there are concerns about the details of this deal, not knowing whether it will allow dredging and pollution of the environment, and wondering if the island will benefit in the long run.

"I'm not having a party over this. I know the cruise industry too well to trust that this is going to benefit Haiti in any significant way. I can guarantee you Carnival is getting more out of this than Haiti ever will," one critic said.

Sound familiar?

In Haiti, as in Charleston, the cruise industry involves prime real estate, albeit very different. And in both cases, the number of cruise passengers could significantly affect the area's culture.

The difference is that Charleston is a thriving city where one would expect to find people discerning about what industries should come here to do business.

Residents of Haiti, where more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day, might be expected to latch onto any hope. And Carnival's plan to build a cruise port on an island best known as a launching point for smugglers would logically offer at least a glimmer of it.

A local government representative on Tortuga is reported to have said, "A tourist port will bring work to La Tortue. But they need to come and talk to the community, get the community involved."

Residents might want to ask him about critics' concerns. While trade groups say the cruise ship industry injects about $2 billion a year into the economies of the Caribbean, critics complain it actually produces little local revenue because the cruise companies and international chain shops on piers siphon away most of the spending.

Carnival needs to take extra steps to make sure it really makes a difference in Haiti, which could use the business, and the dollars.