Is there a story about Haiti that doesn't mention the Caribbean nation's dubious honor of being "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere"? Few have ever heard about Haiti's wealthy elite, most of whom came to the island from France, Lebanon, Syria, Germany, or Jamaica at the beginning of the last century -- families that chose to invest in a country where nothing seems to endure.
Despite, but sometimes thanks to, the absence of a functioning government, rich Haitians have prospered mainly in the import-export business. One percent of Haitians control 50 percent of the country's economy, and its top 500 taxpayers generate 80 percent of its tax revenues. But wealth doesn't buy love. Writer Lyonel Trouillot famously labeled the local bourgeoisie as the "Most Repugnant Elite" for reducing Haiti, known as the "Pearl of the Antilles" when it was a French colony, to a state of abject poverty.
In relative terms, the country may even be worse off now. The horrific earthquake of 2010 and the cholera outbreak that followed killed upwards of 100,000 people; the economy and government are still in tatters. Haiti has been on the receiving end of global handouts -- more than half a billion dollars from NGOs and more than $5 billion dollars in pledges from the international community. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this money alone will not be sufficient to durably reconstruct the country. Love them or hate them, local entrepreneurs are crucial to the development of an economy and the only ones capable of investing for the long-term.
Here's an intimate look at Haiti's 1 percent, in their impenetrable houses nestled in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince, in the ritzy hotels, gyms, and salons where they congregate -- and in the factories that might well be the engines of the country's rebirth.
Above, businessman Gregory Brandt. Involved in the soap and oil sector, he is president of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce. "My children studied abroad, but they chose to come back to Haiti, despite the situation. It is my greatest source of pride."