Tags: Haiti | rich | quake | pain | damage

Haiti's Rich Spared Much of Quake's Pain

Sunday, 17 Jan 2010 10:09 PM


PETIONVILLE, HAITI -- Through decades of coups, hurricanes, embargoes and economic collapse, the wily and powerful business elite of Haiti have learned the art of survival in one of the most chaotic countries on Earth -- and they might come out on top again.

Although Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed many buildings in Port-au-Prince, it mostly spared homes and businesses up the mountain in the cool, green suburb of Petionville, home to former presidents and senators.

A palace built atop a mountain by the man who runs one of Haiti's biggest lottery games is still standing. New-car dealers, the big importers, the families that control the port -- they all drove through town with their drivers and security men this past weekend. Only a few homes here were destroyed.

"All the nation is feeling this earthquake -- the poor, the middle class and the richest ones," said Erwin Berthold, owner of the Big Star Market in Petionville. "But we did okay here. We have everything cleaned up inside. We are ready to open. We just need some security. So send in the Marines, okay?"

As Berthold stood outside his two-story market, stocked with fine wines and imported food from Miami and Paris, his customers cruised by and asked when he would reopen. "Maybe Monday!" he shouted, then held up his hand to his ear, for his customers to call his cellphone.

So little aid has been distributed that there is not much difference between what the rich have received and what the poor have received. The poor started with little and now have less; the elites simply have supplies to last.

But search-and-rescue operations have been intensely focused on buildings with international aid workers, such as the crushed U.N. headquarters, and on large hotels with international clientele. Some international rescue workers said they are being sent to find foreign nationals first.

There is an extreme, almost feudal divide between rich and poor in Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, up in the mountains, the gated and privately guarded neighborhoods resemble a Haitian version of Beverly Hills, but with razor wire.

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2010-09-17
Sunday, 17 Jan 2010 10:09 PM
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