Rhum Barbancourt Survives: Some Rare Good News From Haiti
One week after January's earthquakes devastated Haiti, former New Times staff writer Tristram Korten visited Port au Prince and made a remarkable discovery.
Against all odds, somehow Rhum Barbancourt has survived.
Outside of Wyclef (who's post-earthquake conduct has been less than Nobel Prize-worthy), Barbancourt is probably Haiti's best-known and most successful export. Founded by a French ex-pat in the mid-1800s, Barbancourt has built a global rum empire without ever moving its home base from the outskirts of Port au Prince.
As Korten details in a piece just published in this month's Atlantic Magazine, that wasn't an easy commitment for Barbancourt to keep, even before the earthquake. A 1991 embargo killed tourism, political instability racked the region and hurricanes devastated the company's infrastructure.
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Yet the company managed to keep exporting 33,000 barrels of rum and making $12 million every year.
"What we have to do in Haiti to survive is to be completely self-sufficient," Thierry Gardère, the company's president, tells Korten. "This is due to the fact that there is no state."
January's earthquake killed two Barbancourt employees and destroyed 30 percent of the stock, Gardère says. But the company will survive.
Gardère tells Korten that Barbancourt should start producing rum again in just two months. And despite regular offers from foreign companies to buy the brand -- and presumably move it from Haiti before the ink dries on the contract -- he says the rum maker is in Port au Prince to stay.
"I still feel the same way," he says. "I would like to rebuild here."
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