The thumping of bottles and footsteps blended together as the soundtrack of Haiti’s most recent political unrest. From July 6th to July 12th, 2018, Haiti was engulfed in street riots. The president announced a sharp increase of 38% on gasoline, 47% increase on diesel, and 51% on kerosene (used to light homes).
According to the New York Times, that meant that, “A liter of diesel will cost about $4 and a liter of regular gas will cost nearly $5 under the new prices.” All of this in a country where 80% of the population’s workers make less than $2 a day.
The president’s announcement was made immediately after the president demolished housing within the community of Pèlerin 5 in Port au Prince.
While the country’s economy is stimulated by its agricultural sector, natural disasters pushed people out of villages and crowded them into the capital. After the earthquake in 2010 and the hurricane in 2016, Haiti’s metropolitan areas became overpopulated. Especially in Port au Prince. So, with housing already scarce, the Pelerin 5 community was desperately angry.
Within weeks, adequate and historic housing were broken down and an increase in their cost of living immediately followed. This left many people feeling jaded.
“I’m never voting again!” Madame Nicole responded pensively.
Madame Nicole is our in-house nanny at the D2C home. She’s worked with us for six years. She also leaves her home and family in Port au Prince to work with us in Jacmel.
“We really thought he would do something different, now his words just prove he’s like everyone else.”
Madame Nicole shares the sentiments of many locals. Communities understand what an increase truly signifies.
The D2C After School Program coordinator burrowed his brows and dug into me the context to which he found himself wading in.
“It isn’t just the gas. What about our food? What about that most of our food is imported and needs to be transported by trucks to reach our communities? Don’t you think those prices will surge too?”
He said, almost to himself, “Don’t they realize they’re killing us?”
Beyond the individual scale, the repercussions of the president’s decisions could be argued to be for the country’s best chance at change.
After years of Haiti’s identity being based off of its status as “the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” it is up to the country’s leaders to find ways to stabilize the country’s wobbling foundation.
However, it cannot be ignored that the decisions made from ivory towers often forget a nation’s most vulnerable. The young Haitians who sit in the space of a perpetual waiting game frightfully took the streets.
By Friday afternoon, the riots had spread to Jacmel. Suddenly, a lulling Friday on the island burned with distrust and desperation. Young men began cutting down trees to barricade the roads, pulled wheels off of abandoned vehicles and set fires along the roads.
The country was in a state of emergency.
The D2C home sits in a quiet area, but Friday evening the sounds of the protests echoed against our gates. Motorists were abandoning their cars and opting to walk home rather than attempt to convince rioters to let them pass.
“This is the damn revolution!” A man shouted, machete in one hand. “You may hate us now, but who will you hate when you can’t feed your son?”
After the first day of riots, the next day was silent. All businesses were closed. D2C was out of propane to cook with and down to 3 gallons of water for the household. It looked grim to me.
We didn’t know when the riots would be over. We didn’t know how long it would be before either the president gave in or the riots would burn the entire island.
D2C had been planning a summer camp for three months, but as a result of the political unrest we were forced to cancel. Volunteers’ flights were canceled and we had to assure the safety of our staff and everyone involved. Initially it was very disappointing. Yet, it also taught us that while you can plan for perfection, you are still subject to reality.
Thankfully, Tuesday afternoon the riots stopped and our security guard was able to replenish our water supply. After a weekend where we cooked outside with charcoal and sat together in the dark, we entered the new week very aware of each other.
We spent the 3 days of riots secured in our home having open discussions. I talked with the kids about power and choice. I talked to them about the importance of mobilizing, but the respect that is pivotal to mobilizing sustainable change.
When thinking of Haiti it’s easy to see it as the images thrown into the media. It’s also easy to take experiences and isolate them into black or white. However, it’s more valuable to penetrate the implications of actions by responsibly setting them in context.
On the night of the final riot, after a meditation on compassion, Rebecca, our 10 year old D2C daughter sat in my room with me.
We were on the balcony listening to crickets after nights of screaming, glass, and crackling fire. She said something that I think we should all consider.
“I understand people’s pain and I want to stop it. But we don’t stop pain by hurting more.”