By James Cox, USA TODAY
Seventy wealthy Haitians and Haitian-Americans are launching the island nation’s first investment bank, setting their sights on modest returns to give priority to projects that will benefit Haiti’s poor masses.
PromoCapital hopes to spend up to $150 million in Haiti over the next two years, says Henri Deschamps, a prominent Port-au-Prince printing and media executive who will chair the bank.
“People are quite fed up with Haiti being in constant upheaval, as are we. You have to go and try to make it better,” he says. “Globally, the place looks like it’s a shambles, but in fact individual businesses are slugging it out and succeeding.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. It is chronically dependent on aid from the United States, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, along with an estimated $800 million sent home annually by Haitian exiles working abroad.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country Feb. 29 as rebels closed in on the capital and lawlessness engulfed the city. A 3,600-member multinational force, including 2,000 U.S. Marines, is in Haiti to keep order. An interim government says it will hold elections next year.
Deschamps says PromoCapital will be a pipeline for investment by some of the millions of Haitians abroad and fill a void left by undercapitalized commercial banks and weary aid agencies. He says PromoCapital will:
• Finance modernization projects. PromoCapital is looking at investments in telecom and housing for the working poor.
• Find partners for family-owned businesses in need of financing to expand.
• Offer credit guarantees to farmers and small and midsize businesses that suffered damage and losses from recent looting and vandalism. The guarantees will let entrepreneurs borrow on favorable terms from the country’s commercial banks.
Dumarsais Siméus, a PromoCapital founder who owns a large food-processing business in Texas, says partners are looking for annual returns in the mid- or high teens, compared with the 20% to 40% returns typically sought by investors in private equity funds.
Traditionally, much of Haiti’s business elite has been viewed with distrust by ordinary Haitians and government leaders alike.
“The Haitian business class has not been highly regarded for its ethos of enlightened self-interest,” says Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. “It wanted very much to protect its privileged position (rather than) use its investments for the well-being of society.”