5 Years After the Quake: Haiti’s Rich Get Richer
“I earn about $10 a day. But even if I wanted another job, it’s hard.
Let’s say you go around and pass out your C.V. to a bunch of places,
no one cares. No one looks at it. You have to have a friend to get a job.”
– Maurice, Security Guard at Royal Oasis Hotel
What happened to all those global donations for Haiti’s rebuilding? That’s hard to say. But one thing is clear… since the earthquake, the amenities and services offered to the rich have vastly improved. Five new hotels have been built in the Port-au-Prince area since 2010. This number is astonishing considering the trouble the country has had rebuilding schools, hospitals, infrastructure and housing.
The Port-au-Prince area now hosts the Royal Oasis Hotel, the Best Western, El Rancho, a major addition to the Kinam Hotel, as well as additions at Hotel Montana and the Karibe Hotel. A Marriott is slated to open in the next few weeks. Who is staying at all these hotels? International staff of charitable organizations are way down in the five years since the quake and robust tourism is still a far-off promise.
At the Royal Oasis, staff told me they were about 50% booked. The Best Western was also at about 50% of capacity. This number is particularly low considering the international attention brought by the five year anniversary of the quake. Hotel staff are hopeful the annual Carnival will bring tourists, though most acknowledge that the oceanside town of Jacmel is where Carnival events usually are centered.
Average employees of the hotels earn between $5 and $10 a day. Many guest rooms literally look down on the slums where hotel employees live. Haiti has one of the biggest gaps in the world between rich and poor. This week, hotel employees and neighbors showed me around their homes and the places they hang out to demonstrate the disparity they experience between these two worlds. In some cases, names have been changed. Many people told me a bad job is better than no job at all.
“Do I need to change my life, or does the situation of the country need to change? You tell me.”
– Jean, 22
“They know we live here.”
– Rodrique, 42
“Where would I get that kind of money? I mean really. Think about it. If I had that kind of money, where would I get it? Where could I get it? I’ll tell you. Dealing drugs.”
– Junior, 28
“If you want to go to the big hotels, you have to be white or in the company of a white person.”
– Dominique, 26
“You know when President Martelly said, ‘Haiti is open for business’ the rich people, they didn’t like that. They are going to bring in international companies and the local guys are going to have competition. It’s a criminally wealthy country where they all keep each other wealthy.”
– Pierre, 28
“These hotels are of no concern to me because I don’t have any money. It’s two different worlds.”
– Mary Louise, 57
“It’s not for people like us. It’s for rich people. Not only white people. We have rich black people and rich white people. It’s a money thing. How are we going to get in there? The people in there, they’re business people. I don’t know what they did to get in there but they aren’t paying the people who work for them.”
– Huguens, 23
“I’ll tell you the problem with Haiti. The money goes up, it stays up, and it doesn’t come back down.“
“We’re just fighting. The minute you have a skill, life improves. My wife and I are selling charcoal now. And we have this chicken.”
– David, a carpenter and sometime employee of El Rancho, 28
“I went into the hotel to get a drink. After I finished drinking, they said, ‘You don’t have to pay. Just go.’ They asked me if I was with someone.”
– Loody, 23
“We don’t have a problem with the President. We have a problem with the life. It’s the life that needs to change.“
– Frederick, former employee of USAID, 54
“What is your dream for us?” Asked the young man in the middle of the above right photo.
“I don’t know. A big house? A beautiful family! A job.” I said.
“We’ll take the job.”