Political unrest in Haiti redefines normalcy for citizens

For nine days, Haitians hid in their homes and had no access to food, water or gas as protests raged in the capitol city, sending waves through small communities throughout the country.

In July, the Haitian government enacted a 40 percent fuel price hike in the country. In February, political unrest  led to protests where thousands of Haitians took to the streets.

Protestors asked for U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse and his government to resign. They also protested the double-digit inflation affecting more than 60 percent of the population.

The fragmentation between a small group of elites in the country and the large poor population has emerged because of deeply rooted and unresolved historical dichotomies. The conflict between these two social worlds—rural-based peasants and urban slum dwellers—has protected the elites in the country who have no need for real change.

According to the Miami Hurricane, Miami University’s student newspaper, “An opportunity for Haiti to escape the grip of the traditional multilateral institutions emerged when, in 2006, Venezuela, home of the world’s largest oil reserves, offered Haiti the capital needed for investment in infrastructure development, education, agriculture, health and entrepreneurship.”

With 25 years to pay back the debt of a loan that exceeded $4 billion, official reports in Haiti suggest that $2.3 billion is currently unaccounted for and politicians and their allied ruling families have allegedly used this money for their personal benefit.

Haitians protested in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince for two weeks which left six confirmed dead and an unknown number of people injured. The protests left people without basic needs: food, water and gas, which many are still in need of, though prices to purchase basic materials have continued to increase since the protests.

Lori Tugwell, who lived in Haiti for three years, said, “There are many political parties in Haiti. By creating chaos in the country, these political parties get ahead. The people who are in the streets throwing rocks are paid to do that …  A lot of times, things like this happen to gain political power. There are four political parties who came together for this last political protest. Because they all want the president to leave, and the president, as far as I know, is a believer. I’m not saying there is no corruption, I’m sure there is, but I do think that he is doing some things right and trying to make the country better. It’s obviously slow.”

Rod Coffman, advocate for an organization in Haiti called Hope Child, said rural communities had food during the protests but lacked water:  “Stores were open. Prices became very expensive … They had to buy plastic bags of water and boil them.” Before the protests, an 18-liter water pack was six cents in American currency. After protests, an 18 liter-water pack was 66 cents in American currency. However, Coffman said that, since, on average, Haitians only make two dollars a day and many weren’t able to work during the protests, this price jack was major for most people.

Ron Watson, an employee at Hope Child, said rural communities were more affected by the protests than in Port-Au-Prince. His community, Mirebalais, was without clean water for days. Watson said he and other employees prayed for rain because trucks that typically transport clean water were not able to reach the rural communities. Watson messaged Coffman after nine days of protests and said, “Brother, things are really bad here. Pray God for peace. We’ve stayed inside for nine days now. We cannot go outside because the protestors block the streets.”

As things calm down, government opposition groups are in negotiation with the government to find a solution to economic inequality. However, Coffman said the government and elite families in Haiti aren’t truly seeking resolution because it would not benefit them. “There is no normal in Haiti. The norm in Haiti is a moving target, based on corruption, based on natural disasters they face. Because of [these protests] the norm has shifted. It will take a significant amount of time for rural communities to get back in supplies of things and for families who had to go through anything to make ends meet, they are having to build [resources] back up. Rest assured, the people of Haiti will still be oppressed and it’s never going to be about them.”

Tugwell said that people can help the people of Haiti by reading about what is “going on literally next door to us,” by praying and by buying products that are ethically sourced and made in Haiti to help the economy. Tugwell suggests Papillion Enterprise, Haiti Deisgn Co-op and 2nd Story Goods. Also, Joyhouse Coffee in Bentonville, Ark. and Cave Springs Coffee in Cave Springs, Ark. sell Haitian sourced artisanal goods.