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Juan (Hanna) Michael Canahuati, entrepreneur

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 01.11.2011:

By George Al Ama and Nada Atrash

TWIP November 2011

Although, according to unofficial statistics, the Arab population in Honduras (most of which are of Palestinian origin) does not exceed 3 per cent of the six million inhabitants, they have contributed enormously to the economy, politics, and culture in their new country. To mention a few, the previous president, Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (1998-2002); former minister of commerce and industry, Oscar Kafati; the businessmen/manufacturers, George Elias Mitri and Roberto Handal; and Central Bank President Victoria Asfoura; in addition to the textile entrepreneur, Juan Canahuati.

Born in Bethlehem on 23 January, 1930, the young Juan (Hanna) Michael Canahuati received his elementary education at the De La Salle School in Jerusalem and continued his secondary education at Terra Sancta School, after which he left his town of Bethlehem in 1948 to study business administration in New York. Like many of the Palestinians, Juan joined some of his brothers and immigrated to Mexico. Later, he settled down in San Pedro Sula in Honduras.

His determination and hard work turned the young Canahuati into one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in Honduras, if not in the world. Being renowned as one of Honduras’s visionaries in pushing free trade and opening up Honduras to US investment, his conglomerate Grupo Lovable, which was established in the 1960s, works in textiles, water, and sewage treatment, and owns industrial parks, and an electric plant, is now the second largest employer in Honduras. Its contributions have increased the export of textiles so that they now beat out coffee and bananas as the country’s top export.

Juan (Hanna) Canahuati’s insight also led him to become a leader and a pioneer in the fight for the Honduran legislation to provide incentives for US companies to invest in Honduras, and for the legislation in the United States to remove the export duties that hinder competition with Mexico. An insight that made Peter Johnson, a former director of Caribbean Latin American Action, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC that lobbies the US Congress to pass Caribbean Basin Initiative legislation, to describe him as a man with a great vision for the future and extensive business knowledge that he gained through his experience in Grupo Lovable.

Despite his commitment to his business and his hard work, Juan never forgot his duty to his Arab identity, and he participated in 1968 with a group of Arabs living in San Pedro Sula in establishing the Centro Social Honduriano-Arabe (the Arab-Honduran Social Centre). Juan has also been the first president of the Arab-Honduran Social Centre, a centre that provides space for the Arab community to meet and socialise.

Upon his arrival to San Pedro Sula, Juan met Erlinda (Tina) Canahuati, with whom he got married in 1954 and had five children-Mario Miguel, Edgardo, Olga Carolina, Jesus Juan, and Juan Diego-who continue to run their father’s business. His son, Mario Miguel, has also been involved in the political circle, and is currently the Honduran Minister of the Exterior. Juan (Hanna) Michael Canahuati passed away in San Pedro Sula on 9 September 2010 at the age of eighty, and left behind him a legacy and a story that reflects the mark that Palestinians have left on the world today.

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