Our (honorary) man in Haiti
Finland's Honorary Consul in Port-au-Prince Gregory Mevs has decided to put his ruined home country back on its feet
By Maria Manner
Some days after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Gregory Mevs showed former US President Bill Clinton his ruined hometown, Port-au-Prince.
”At the National Palace I asked Clinton if he could imagine the White House collapsing on its knees lik that. He had tears in his eyes”, Mevs says.
Mevs speaks about Clinton as if he were an old friend, and friends they are.
Mevs is one of the most influential businessmen in Haiti.
He puts deals together with the Soros Fund Management founded by billionaire investor George Soros. In addition, he is a personal friend of many bigwigs in the western hemisphere.
In his home country, almost everyone knows the name of the Mevs family.
It belongs to the six most powerful families in Haiti, who are traditionally said to control the major components of the Haitian economy.
At present, Gregory Mevs is sitting in the lobby of a 5-star hotel in Helsinki.
He also happens to be Finland’s Honorary Consul in Port-au-Prince.
He has flown up north in order to persuade Finnish companies to invest in the Republic of Haiti.
Seen from abroad, people like Mevs - who have money and contacts - have been regarded as crucial for Haiti’s future.
Mevs likes to speak about responsible measures businesses should take during reconstruction.
”Haitians need decent jobs”, Mevs says.
”Business cannot be done without empathy and solidarity”, he adds.
Solidarity is not a word that Haitians are used to linking with the nation's elite. In a country where a small group of rich people owns almost everything, while the poor do not own anything, many people feel that the rich population has made their fortune at their expense.
The split between rich and poor is further accentuated by the fact that the elite is often white and has a European background, while the majority of Haitians are descendants of black slaves originally been brought from Africa.
According to Mevs, things have changed since the years of dictatorship.
President François ”Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ”Baby Doc” Duvalier governed the Republic of Haiti by effectively terrorising the population from 1957 to 1986.
”During the Duvalier dictatorship businessmen were seen as a political threat, which is why they were separated from politics. Today even wealthy people must assume a sense of social responsibility”, Mevs explains.
During the earthquake, Mevs was in a car in Port-au-Prince on his way from one meeting to another, as usual.
”I began to understand that a massive earthquake had occurred as I saw a collapsed church. The only things left from the church were an altar and a cross with a figure of Christ on it”, Mevs recalls.
Mevs’ family was saved, but just like everybody else, he also lost friends and relatives.
Rich people would have a possibility to join those more than four million Haitians who now live abroad. Haiti’s population is almost ten million.
Mevs has remained in Haiti, even though the Haitian elite has to live behind closed walls and under the threat of abductions.
”A French economist friend of mine asked once why I live in Haiti. I said that I could live in Paris, read Le Monde and his articles. But in my own country, I can see the world with my own eyes and can do something about it”, Mevs explained.
Mevs has been Finland’s Honorary Consul since 2004.
His armoured SUV has Finnish diplomatic licence plates.
Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs invites as Honorary Consuls people who are in significant positions in their home countries. They do not receive any salary for their tasks.
Recently, Mevs visited Finland with a representative of Haiti’s new Prime Minister.
They paid a visit to almost 30 companies, including for example Kemira, Vaisala, and builders Honkarakenne.
”Haitians are interested in Finland, as Finnish firms are efficient and are pathfinders in green technology”, Mevs says.
After the interview, Mevs was to meet representatives of Kristina Cruises.
He wants the shipping company’s cruise ships to visit Haiti during their Caribbean cruises. The country desperately needs tourists, and an increase in shipborne tourism would not be too bad for Mevs himself, either.
After all, Mevs owns Haiti’s most significant port operations.
FACTFILE: Finland’s Honorary Consul
Gregory Mevs is 53 years old.
Mevs is the CEO of the WIN Group, a Caribbean conglomerate.
He is Haiti’s commercial envoy and a member in the Presidential Advisory Council.
Mevs has studied in Miami in Florida.
He is married, with two children aged 12 and 14.
Finland does not have an embassy in Port-au-Prince, but the Finnish Ambassador in Mexico is also accredited in Haiti, Belize, and Cuba.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.5.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
UN asks Finland to send crisis management forces to Haiti (25.1.2010)
Finnish Red Cross field hospital cares for injured in Haiti (20.1.2010)
Finnish aid organisations join international effort to help Haiti after massive earthquake (14.1.2010)
Honorary Consuls of Finland
MARIA MANNER / Helsingin Sanomat