Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Uh Oh. Haiti's elite sees business opportunities

One thing about the Caribbean, when the business elite eye business opportunities, it always leads to more corruption and exploitation. I wouldn't trust this group because it never ends well for everyone.

Last month's earthquake battered Reginald Boulos's small empire, destroying one of his supermarkets, badly damaging a hotel and killing two workers at his car dealership.

But with foreign aid flowing and a sympathetic world watching, Boulos envisions a new Haiti: one focused on quickly creating jobs while purging its ruling class of the cronyism that helped make this one of the world's poorest countries.

"This is what the earthquake is today -- an opportunity, a huge opportunity," said Boulos, a brash 54-year-old former doctor who once worked in Haiti's most notorious slum. "I think we need to give the message that we are open for business. This is really a land of opportunities."

Haiti's elite -- a small, politically connected group as comfortable lobbying President René Préval as lawmakers in Washington -- is positioning itself for business opportunities emerging from their country's reconstruction. The textile industry in particular, which survived the temblor largely intact, is gearing up to add tens of thousands of jobs, thanks to U.S. legislation approved in 2008 that gives Haitian garments duty-free, quota-free access to the United States.

But for some Haitians, it is a cruel irony that a business community they consider clannish, corrupt and responsible for the country's backwardness could be spearheading efforts to jumpstart the economy.

"Haitian business people, they exploit the workers, and they lie to the multinational agencies about working conditions," said Yannick Etienne, a labor organizer with Batay Ouvriye, a workers' rights group. "When you see the way they treat people here, it's difficult to really expect much from them."

Put it this way. If these people are the elites with the business resources considering the political and business climate of Haiti going back decades. How do you think they got to that position?

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