Haitians began to lose control of their lives last month, shortly after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he would eliminate fuel price subsidies, which were immediately doubled.
Shots rang out and protesters blocked the streets with steel fences and mango trees. Haiti's most powerful criminal gang then dug ditches to block access to the country's largest fuel terminal, saying it would not reopen until Henry resigns and fuel and commodity prices drop.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is suffering from an inflationary spiral that greatly affects the people and aggravates the protest demonstrations, which have society on the verge of exploding. Violence abounds and parents are afraid to send their children to school. Fuel and drinking water are in short supply, while hospitals, banks and grocery stores are struggling to stay open.
The president of the neighboring Dominican Republic described the situation in Haiti as a "low-intensity civil war."
Life in Haiti is always difficult, not to say dysfunctional. But the magnitude of the current paralysis and despair is unprecedented.
Political instability has been brewing since the assassination of the Haitian president last year, which has not yet been resolved. An inflation of 30% only makes things worse.
“If they don't want to understand, we're going to make them understand,” Pierre Killick Cemelus said recently, sweating as he tried to keep up with thousands of protesters.
The gas tank blocked by criminals has not been working since September 12. It has about 40 million liters (10 million gallons) of diesel and gasoline, and more than 3.2 million liters (800 billion gallons) of kerosene. Many gas stations have closed and others are rapidly running out of fuel.
Fuel shortages recently forced hospitals to cut back on services and businesses that distribute water to close.
Banks and grocery stores are struggling to stay open because of a lack of fuel — and skyrocketing prices — that make it nearly impossible for workers to show up for work.
A liter of gasoline costs almost eight dollars on the black market in Port-au-Prince and more than nine in rural areas. People walk miles to get food and water because public transportation is so limited.
“There is total chaos in Haiti,” said Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociologist at Wesleyan University. “There are gangs that basically do what they want, where they want and when they want, with total impunity, because the police are not in a position to control them,”
He added that Haiti is "generally speaking a broken society" and that Henry's de facto government "doesn't seem too bothered by chaos and probably benefits from it because it allows him to hold on to power and prolong organization for as long as possible." of new elections.
Criminal gangs have always wielded abundant power in Haiti. But after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, his influence increased.
They are fighting to control more territory and have killed hundreds of Haitians, including women and children, in recent months, displacing some 20,000 people from their homes. Kidnappings went up.
Henry promised to hold elections as soon as the situation allows. In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, he said that "I am not interested in remaining in power longer than necessary."
"My country is going through a multidimensional crisis, the consequences of which compromise democracy and the rule of law," he said. He condemned the widespread looting and violence, saying those responsible "must answer for their crimes before history and before the courts."
From 2000 to 2017, UN peacekeepers bolstered the country's security and helped rebuild democratic institutions after a violent rebellion toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For now, however, foreign intervention in Haiti is unthinkable. Local politicians shunned the idea of outside help, pointing out that UN peacekeepers sexually abused children and sparked a cholera epidemic more than a decade ago that killed nearly 10,000 people.
The first round of protests, in mid-September, caused France and Spain to close their embassies and banks to close in the capital. Protesters attacked businesses, the homes of well-known politicians and even UN World Food Program warehouses, stealing millions of dollars worth of food and water.
The protests are getting bigger and bigger. Tens of thousands of people recently took to the streets in Port-au-Prince and other cities, including Gonaives and Cap-Haitien in the north. They waved green branches and shouted “Ariel has to go”.
Primary school teacher Jean-Wilson Fabre joined a recent demonstration and had to seek shelter on a side street to avoid police tear gas grenades.
"He's not doing anything," he complained, alluding to the prime minister.
Fabre, who has two children, lamented the lack of food and water, the rise in kidnappings and the growing power of criminal gangs. “No one is crazy enough to send their children to school in this situation. They will not be safe,” she stated.
The educator is one of millions of parents who refused to send their children back to school when the government announced a resumption of classes on October 3 in an effort to restore a sense of normalcy amid so much instability.
Haitian courts were due to reopen on October 3, but the Bar Association turned down an invitation from the prime minister to discuss the matter a few days earlier, saying gangs were still occupying Port-au-Prince's main court, among other things.
“With Ariel, things are getting worse and worse,” said Merlay Saint-Pierre, a 28-year-old unemployed woman with two children who participated in the recent protest demonstrations.
Hundreds of people spend hours queuing every day to buy buckets of water. Trucks that make deliveries cannot enter the neighborhoods because the streets are blocked.
“I am afraid of this water,” said 22-year-old Lionel Simon. He indicated that he uses the water to wash clothes and that he adds chlorine to it before drinking it.
At least eight people have died of cholera in recent days and dozens more have been treated, according to health authorities, who have asked protesters and gangs to allow fuel and water to reach neighborhoods.
Simon is not worried about anger. His biggest concern is gangs and an increase in the number of minors carrying weapons.
"We don't know if life will return to normal," he said. “If you die today, you don't know if you'll make it to the morgue. You can be left lying on the street, to be eaten by dogs and other animals. That's how crazy things are in this city today."
Dupuy, the Haiti expert, said Henry is unlikely to resign given there is no international pressure for him to do so. He expressed that there is no solution in sight: "How much longer can you resist this boiling point?"