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Haitian investments on hold.

The 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence struggle was marked with an ominous reminder of its past in September when the island nation's first democratically elected government was upended by a coup just seven months after it came into power. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's bold experiment in democracy and economic reform was shattered by a military junta that destroyed months of negotiations to encourage desperately needed economic aid and foreign investment.

At press time, Aristide, who had been arrested by coup leaders, was allowed safe passage to Venezuela. The military takeover underscores the difficulties Haiti has had in attracting foreign investors due to its long history of internal strife.

"Once a country has instability in government, most business people don't really want to get involved because they don't know what's going to happen next. They have their investment to protect," says Roy Hasticks, president of the New York City-based Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce. He says another affect of the coup is that, "It scares people off. It really kills a country from a tourism point of view."

Frantz Boisson, president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, agrees, but also keeps an open mind. "It [the coup] definitely affects the mood and the climate that was created for investment, but who knows--the military junta may be strong enough to stabilize the country, so that investment may be even more possible."

Hasticks says the chamber, which encourages investment in Caribbean nations, didn't begin to promote investment in Haiti until Aristide was elected last April. The chamber was planning a trade mission and a series of seminars to attract investments to the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, but Hasticks concedes, "This [coup] has set us back."

Reviving Haiti's economy was a daunting task long before the coup. President Aristide was faced with the challenge of reversing the effects of pandemic corruption, listless state control of key industries and the deterioration of Haiti's once-lucrative tourist and agricultural industries. The nation's 80% illiteracy rate and 60% unemployment rate are particularly difficult hurdles to clear.

Nonetheless, the world's oldest black republic has strong investment potential. The tourist industry, hard hit by the AIDS scare and political unrest of the 1980s, offers promising opportunities. The picturesque port town of Jacmel on Haiti's southern coast is being eyed for development. New hotels and docking space for cruise ships and cargo vessels are planned.

The country's high unemployment rate boasts strong potential as a lure for foreign firms in the garment and high-tech industries seeking low-wage assembly workers. The production of Haiti's unique artisanal products--painting, sculpture and crafts--is also a resource that can be harnessed for export trade.

In October, deposed president Aristide traveled to the United States to plead for international pressure to restore him to power. Hasticks believes that to achieve substantial investment and economic growth, Haiti must gain assurances from outside forces that support its' goals. "It now depends on international pressure . . . to reassure the potential investors that it is safe to invest," says Hasticks.
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Author:Scott, Matthew S.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:497
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