Haiti is on fire once again.
The Caribbean country has been the scene for several weeks of protests – some of them violent – against the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry , in power since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July last year. The reason? The Haitian government announced a new increase in fuel prices.
The unrest has prompted the Haitian prime minister to ask the international community for military assistance. The announcement generated even more protests.
These are some of the crises facing the Caribbean country.
1. Criminal gangs and lack of fuel
Haiti has been paralyzed since a coalition of gangs blockaded the Varreux fuel terminal last month. The lack of gasoline and diesel has paralyzed transport and has forced companies and hospitals to stop their activity.
The violence is not only affecting Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, but is spreading to other cities in the country, which are already facing fuel and electricity shortages, something that threatens the daily lives of millions of people.
Armed groups regularly prevent access to facilities, stopping the flow of fuel.
In Jeremie, a coastal city on the southwestern tip of the island, gas stations have been without fuel for months.
Residents are forced to turn to the black market, where gasoline and diesel are readily available but at prices six times higher than the government-set rate.
“You can find fuel everywhere, except at gas stations,” Yvon Janvier, a law professor, told AFP.
So, with little legal fuel available and sky-high prices on the black market, Jeremie’s less well-off residents are forced to travel on foot.
The vast majority of energy used in Haiti is produced by plants that burn diesel, so “it’s very simple: if there’s no fuel, there’s no electricity,” says Janvier.
José Davilmar, administrative director of the country’s Public Electric Power Company (EDH), told the French agency that there are “enormous difficulties in transporting fuel to certain provincial towns.”
“More recently, three boats loaded with fuel could not dock because there were reprisals from criminals in Cité Soleil,” he exemplified.
Controlling just two kilometers of the national highway in Martissant, a poor suburb of the capital, the gangs have gained power over the flow of goods to half the country.
Armed groups have been in full control of the only paved road leading to the southern regions of Haiti since June 2021.
Without electricity from power plants, entire regions of the country must turn to gas-fired generators to keep the lights on.
For those who cannot afford their own generator, daily life has become a headache.
In Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, generator-equipped bars and restaurants have been able to stay open but have reduced their hours due to rising gas prices.
The mayor of that city, Patrick Almonor, warned since July that the power cuts have had a great impact on medical facilities.
“Hospitals are working at a slower pace, with reduced services because it has been almost six months since the EDH has not supplied electricity to the city,” says Almonor.
2. Suspended subsidies and riots
On Sunday, September 11, the Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, announced that fuel prices must increase, since the State lacked funds to continue with the subsidies.
The announcement unleashed the anger of a population already hit by insecurity and poverty, and that depends not only on fuel for transportation, but also for electricity and cooking.
Although the protests against Henry began at the end of August, they intensified on Wednesday, September 13, when the government formalized the suspension of subsidies for diesel and domestic fuel, while it reduced those for gasoline.
Diesel and kerosene prices will go from about 350 gourdes (Haitian currency, about $3) to nearly 670 gourdes (about $5.70).
On September 16, protesters looted a UN Food Program (WFP) warehouse.
The WFP warehouse located in Gonaïves, the country’s third-largest city, containing 1,400 tons of food, was attacked by protesters on Thursday, while demonstrations of anger were seen on the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and in other cities. provincial.
The WFP condemned in a statement the attack on its office and the looting of its warehouse, and stressed that the food was destined for school feeding programs and the most vulnerable families and children in Haiti, a country absorbed by the crisis.
“It is simply unacceptable. The looted food was supposed to feed almost 100,000 schoolchildren by the end of the year,” Jean-Martin Bauer, WFP country director in Haiti, was quoted as saying in the statement.
In the face of gang violence and unrest, several countries made the decision to temporarily close their embassies in Port-au-Prince. Among the countries that closed their diplomatic representations are Mexico, the Dominican Republic —a country with which Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola— and Canada.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti maintain strained relations, especially due to the passage of Haitians across the common border in search of better living conditions.
Santo Domingo has toughened its immigration policy and is building a border wall between the two countries.
According to estimates, some 3 million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, whose population does not reach 11 million inhabitants, although the official data places them at 500,000. Some 7,000 Dominicans, meanwhile, reside in Haiti.
3. The resurgence of cholera
These unrest and lack of security are making it difficult to contain the new cholera outbreak in Haiti, while the lack of vaccination leaves the door open to outbreaks of other diseases that could trigger new health crises, the Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday. (PAHO).
The health institution has confirmed 18 deaths from cholera in the Caribbean country until October 9, with hundreds of possible infected still pending tests, information that is known after the Haitian authorities confirmed the unexpected return of the deadly disease earlier this month.
As of October 9, PAHO had confirmed 32 cases of cholera, while more than 260 possible infections are still pending confirmation in the surroundings of Port-au-Prince, and almost a quarter of these cases have occurred in children between one and four years.
“The current civil unrest and the precarious security situation in the country make efforts to contain and control this cholera outbreak difficult,” said PAHO Director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, adding that these situations also deteriorate other health priorities such as maternity health, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis or routine vaccinations.
PAHO considers that the risk of the cholera outbreak is “moderate” for the rest of the Americas and “minimal” in the world, while the greatest risk is for other departments of Haiti not yet affected, as well as the Dominican Republic, said the Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO staff member.
Haiti already suffered a cholera outbreak in 2010 when United Nations peacekeepers dumped infected sewage into a river, prompting authorities to apologize for the spread that killed thousands.
4. The call for international aid and more protests
Henry’s government formally asked the international community on Friday for the help of a “specialized armed force” to “stop, throughout the territory, the humanitarian crisis” caused by the actions of the gangs that abound in the country.
In turn, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, asked on Sunday “the international community (…) to urgently examine” the request.
He also denounced in a letter to the members of the Security Council that “the criminal gangs that took control of strategic infrastructures such as the international port of Port-au-Prince”, the capital, “and the main fuel terminal”.
This unleashed new protests, where scenes of violence and new looting were recorded, to which the police responded with tear gas, an AFP agency correspondent observed.
Several people were shot and one died, according to the same correspondent.
The organizers accused the police of the death. “This young girl did not represent any threat. She was killed expressing her desire to live with dignity,” denounced a protester in his 40s who requested anonymity.
“The United States and Canada are interfering in the internal affairs of Haiti,” denounced another demonstrator.
“It’s true that we need help to develop our country. But we don’t need boots” on the ground, he said, referring to sending troops.
“Furthermore, this government lacks the legitimacy to ask for military assistance. We oppose this option,” he added.
US officials held talks in Haiti on Wednesday about requests for international intervention to combat growing insecurity in the Caribbean country, but the US government was reluctant to send troops.
However, the administration of President Joe Biden announced visa restrictions on Haitians suspected of protecting or financing gangs, and said it is working with Mexico on a UN Security Council resolution to impose targeted sanctions and security measures. additional.
With information from AFP and Reuters