Harsh realities have always been a part of life in Haiti. And in the week since the earthquake, the world's attention has been focused on the human suffering there and how to assist.
But reconstruction in Haiti will begin eventually, opening the door for another harsh reality: profiteering.
While the concept of making money from tragic circumstance is most often linked to wars, natural disasters are also routinely seized upon by some as moneymaking opportunities, often by unscrupulous black-market operators who peddle scarcities such as bottled water and gasoline, at marked-up prices.
But fly-by-night gouging operations should not be confused with legitimate businesses whose products or expertise suddenly come into demand. Undoubtedly, billions of dollars will flow into Haiti in the next several years, which will provide certain companies with economic opportunities.
"The money will come and, yes, there are a number of companies well-positioned to benefit from that money," said Tom Herzfeld, a Miami-based money manager who runs a fund specifically focused on the Caribbean. "That doesn't make them profiteers."
One example of a company poised to profit from the rebuilding of Haiti is Jacksonville, Florida-based Trailer Bridge Inc., Herzfeld said. The freight transportation company, which trades publicly on the Nasdaq under the symbol TRBR, is one of the few cargo carriers with a fleet of vessels specifically designed to operate in shallow-water ports such as those found in Haiti.
Trailer Bridge said last week that it was expanding its activities in the Dominican Republic, which is on the island of Hispaniola and directly adjacent to Haiti. Additionally, the shipper said that it had agreed to assist the U.S. government and other entities in the region with Haitian relief efforts.
The company's expanded activities in the Dominican Republic, which involve carriers making trips there now every week instead of every two weeks, was in the works prior to the earthquake, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the world's largest cement maker, Cemex, a Monterrey, Mexico-based company with a plant in the Dominican Republic, is another company that Herzfeld sees as a logical beneficiary of reconstruction in Haiti.
Cemex trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CX. Jorge Perez, a company spokesman, said Cemex has operated a plant in the Dominican Republic since the mid-1990s and that it also operates three marine terminals in Haiti. Cemex's 115-person staff there is OK and accounted for, Perez added. The company said it, too, is assisting with relief efforts.
With three cement import terminals, two of which are located in the Port-au-Prince area, and one in the northern town of Cape Haitian, Cemex is among the major cement suppliers in Haiti, Perez said.
"One of the terminals remains operating and with the help of Cemex in the Dominican Republic and its other operations in the region, we will be able to maintain supply of cement into Haiti and as such contribute to satisfying the country's requirements," Perez added.