Many news sources are reporting that thousands of Haitian protesters have rioted in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other locations in Haiti against President Michel Martelly and the upcoming election to determine his successor, which some say is rigged in favor of his ruling party, according to Time magazine. The turmoil comes before the scheduled runoff election this coming Sunday between Jovenel Moïse, who is backed by the current government, and opposition candidate Jude Célestin.
Protests are also taking place today in the port at Labadee, an idyllic 260-acre “private destination” operated by the Royal Caribbean cruise line on the northern coast of the country. Small boatloads of protesters have blocked cruise passengers from disembarking the Freedom of the Seas which arrived in Labadee, Haiti this morning.
The controversy has been witnessed first hand by Tom Fox, a passenger aboard the Freedom of the Seas. Ironically, Fox just retired after 35 year as the publisher of the National Catholic Reporter two weeks ago.
Fox says the cruise ship was met by a number of small vessels packed with protesters clanging pans and shouting. One or two Haitian coast guard vessels kept watch, guiding through and among the other vessels. Fox reports that the demonstration has been non-violent so far. The captain of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship announced that the protests were “due to the upcoming Haitian election.”
It is curious, however, that one of the signs on one of the vessels reads “USA Away,” according to Fox.
In 1986, Royal Caribbean shook hands with the tyrant Baby Doc Duvalier to seal a deal where it obtained exclusive control of 260 acres of sovereign waterfront land from Haiti. Royal Caribbean trademarked its new “private island” —”Labadee®” — derived from the name of the 1600s French plantation baron and slave owner Marquis de La’Badie. It then erected a 12-foot-high security fence around its “island” and hired armed security guards to keep the impoverished Haitians out.
Royal Caribbean ran into a public relations nightmare in 2010 following the earthquake which devastated Port-au-Prince, when it sailed its mega cruise ships into its private resort.
Fox points out that a Freedom of the Seas crew member says that the protest at Labadee has been unprecedented in her 13 years of visiting the port, although Fox tweeted that some crew members doubt that the protests are, in fact, due to the Haitian elections.