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Artisans Are Thriving Again In Post-quake Haiti

Haitian crafts had peaked in the early 1980s, when thousands of artisans were employed. But the industry, and the rest of Haiti's economy, collapsed following a United Nations-imposed embargo in 1993 that sought to restore constitutional rule after a military junta ousted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Artisans are again seeing their crafts compete on the international market and create jobs in a country where steady employment is elusive. There are no official figures on unemployment since the quake but the jobless rate was around 60 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to the World Bank.

The money made at Haiti's end can seem far removed from what the crafts bring at a U.S. retailer, where the final price is pushed up by shipping, stocking, marketing and other costs.

Craftsman Felix Calixte said he earns $6.50 for a metal picture frame in a style similar to one selling at Macy's for about $40. Still, Calixte can make three in a day, and the total income of nearly $20 is five times Haiti's daily minimum wage.

In the densely packed district of Carrefour, an entrepreneur curiously named Einstein Albert leans over workers as he walks through a courtyard and inspects the latest order of wooden bowls.

"When we look at Cuba, they have their cigars. Colombia has coffee," said Albert. "If Haiti has an image to sell and can compete in the Caribbean, offer something or create more jobs, it is through the handicraft sector."

His bowls are made from logs harvested from the forest of 25,000 trees he grows in southern Haiti â¿¿ ochebe, a hardwood prized for its lack of splinters and resin.

Each bowl takes six weeks of carving, sanding and sealing with 13 coats of lead-free varnish. They've been sold at select Macy's stores for $75 each and by U.S.-based crafts websites, along with Port-au-Prince's few high-end hotels frequented by aid workers, diplomats and contractors.

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