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Clintons preside over opening of $300 million industrial park in Haiti (+video)

On Monday, a South Korean textile company opened a 600-acre industrial park in Haiti. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton were on hand, as well as a number of American celebrities. 

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The park's promoters cite long-term estimates of 130,000 new jobs in the region, about half of those in the park itself.

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Some 1,000 people already work at the park's first factory. Operated by South Korean textile and apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co Ltd, it makes T-shirts for Wal-Mart.

A paint factory is set to open next month. The number of jobs is due to grow to 5,400 by the end of 2013 as the facilities expand and more companies move in.

Critics say a return to factory-based economic initiatives will not help pull Haitians out of poverty.

They cite promises of factory jobs in the 1970s that lured thousands of people from the countryside to the capital. Most wound up living in swelling slums, which fueled political instability that caused many factories to close.

The Inter-American Development Bank committed an initial $55 million investment for the park's construction. The lead investor, Sae-A Trading Co Ltd, said it plans to build 12 factories with a total investment of $90 million providing jobs for 20,000 Haitians.

Starting pay for Caracol's workers is the minimum wage of $5 per day.

Linose Joseph, 29, a Sae-A sewing machine operator, said she is now better able to feed her three children even though she thinks her salary is too low.

She said the company charges employees $1.25 for lunch and that many workers spend $1.25 per day on transport to and from the factory.

But "we never thought we would have this in our country," Joseph said, referring to manufacturing jobs.

Meanwhile, farmers complain they were displaced from their fields to make way for the park and have protested their lost income.

"No one should be under any illusions that this is a perfect project. What development project anywhere in the world is?" said Hillary Clinton. Despite "the inevitable challenges ... the development here represents a new opportunity for Haiti."

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