If there are profits to be made rebuilding Haiti, the bulk of them should go to businesses in Haiti, said Bryan Schaaf, founder of Haiti Innovation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that consults to donors interested in helping the impoverished nation. "Foreign companies should be partnering with locals on all of this stuff," said Schaaf, who spent three years as a Peace Corp volunteer in Haiti.
He agreed that a massive amount of money will pour into Haiti but also pointed out that large-scale reconstruction is not yet a priority with so many basic needs, such as search and rescue, food, water, health care, still being addressed.
Make no mistake, though, rebuilding funds will be coming. The Inter-American Development Bank has authorized the Haitian government to tap $90 million in funds earmarked for pre-earthquake development projects in Haiti for use in priority infrastructure projects. The Canadian government, in conjunction with its Canadian International Development Agency, historically one of the largest providers of aid to Haiti, is set to convene a meeting next week in Montreal aimed at coordinating efforts by governments and donor agencies, including the United Nations and its two main lending entities, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the French Development Agency and a host of other organizations.
A decade ago, when Hurricane Mitch destroyed large parts of Central America, the Inter-American Development Bank helped coordinate a global relief effort that ultimately totaled $9 billion in aid, grants, debt relief and low interest loans.
Some of the other companies that could end up getting even a portion of money earmarked for Haiti's reconstruction include the Cayman Islands-based company Consolidated Water, which makes fresh water through reverse osmosis technology, and Miami-based Watsco, a major distributor of air conditioners, Herzfeld said.
His fund, the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, was started 15 years ago and has been geared toward benefiting from what he sees as the inevitable opening up of Cuba. In fact, the closed-end fund's shares trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol CUBA.
"It seems hard to believe now but, like in Cuba, tourism is going to be a big part of Haiti's economic future," Herzfeld said.
That Haiti has any economic future might seem hard to envision; so is the idea of any company profiting from the misery there. The two concepts, nonetheless, remain unavoidably linked.