Haiti Earthquake May Stir Business Boom Haiti's small business elite sees January's earthquake as an opportunity, but not just to make money. They say it's a chance to refashion the corrupt, inefficient way things are done in Haiti, while marshaling international support to boost the country's industries.

After Quake, Haiti Seeks Better Business Climate

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to report next about two places battling corruption. In a moment, a report on allegations involving a prominent political figure in South Africa.

First we check in on Haiti, where some people see the earthquake as a business opportunity and a chance to change the corrupt practices that have helped impoverish that country.

NPR's Juan Forero reports from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Unidentified Group: (singing in foreign language)

JUAN FORERO: As textile workers pack T-shirts, they sing. The lyrics speak to how they've suffered, suffered all their lives, suffered since birth.

These workers, some of the garment industry's 25,000 employees, do have a tough life. Many earn just three or $4 a day. And since the quake, thousands of them have been living in makeshift tent cities.

But these days, they are the lucky ones. They're alive and they have jobs, a rarity in a country with 70 percent unemployment.

(Soundbite of factory machines)

FORERO: On the factory floor, workers sew and stitch, churning out garments for the U.S. market.

(Soundbite of factory machines)

FORERO: And owner Clifford Apaid sees promise in the world now wanting to help Haiti. Apaid's family owns AGA, seven factories with 9,000 workers.

Mr. CLIFFORD APAID (Owner, AGA): Everybody is looking at Haiti and seeing what they can do. And it is the moment to take that energy and turn it into jobs, and turn it into a positive economic development for Haiti and a better future for Haiti.

FORERO: It's hard for anyone surveying the rubble that was Port-au-Prince to see anything rosy. But Georges Sassine, one of Haiti's biggest boosters, believes there's opportunity in the devastation.

Mr. GEORGES SASSINE (President, Manufacturer's Association): I remember somebody saying a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. It is true. The opportunity has been thrust upon us.

FORERO: Sassine is president of the Manufacturer's Association and a textile factory owner. He says low wages here and the duty-free access to U.S. markets may lead to a job boom, with tens of thousands more jobs.

Sassine also says the international attention could pressure Haitian leaders into ending the corruption and cronyism that's put personal enrichment ahead of Haiti's well being for so long.

Mr. SASSINE: To change the foundation of this country to make it right, because it is not right. It is not a democratic foundation.

FORERO: Many Haitians, though, have little confidence in the business elite. They see them as part of the problem.

At the Sonapi Industrial Park, Haitians gather outside a factory gate.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

FORERO: They ask for work. They ask for food.

(Soundbite of a gate closing)

FORERO: But as guards shut the gate, it's clear nothing is forthcoming, as Eliacin Cadet quickly found out. He's 24, is ready to work and has a family to feed. But he says finding factory work - or any stable job, for that matter -is near impossible.

Mr. ELIACIN CADET: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Cadet believes the elite don't care about people like him. They often promise to create jobs, but rarely come through.

Mr. CADET: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: And when you do find a job, Cadet says, the pay is so poor it's like volunteering.

At One World Apparel, 700 workers make coveralls and pants. And the owner, Charles Baker, says there could be many more jobs. When the quake hit, Baker explains, he assumed it would be weeks before his plant would be up and running.

Mr. CHARLES BAKER (Owner, One World Apparel Within): Within three days, they were producing what they were producing before the earthquake. For me, it's unbelievable. That gives you hope, that in itself.

FORERO: Standing on his factory floor amid hundreds of workers, he said that they were the real heroes in this broken country.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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