A Note from Wynn, CHP’s Director, About Headlines from Port-au-Prince
A friend wrote me yesterday to ask if I was safe and sound. She had seen the reports of violence and riots in Port-au-Prince, and she knew I was supposed to be in in Haiti this week. I let her know that for reasons unrelated to the protests I had postponed my visit, and will instead go later this month.
As her initial "making sure all's well" email broadened into a more general catching up, she asked about the protests in an effort to understand them, their causes, their roots and how they fit together with what I usually share about Haiti.
I paraphrase my response below, in the hopes it may shed some light on my own view of things should anyone out there be interested:
First, the protests themselves. The government recently announced the elimination of public subsidies on gas, diesel, and kerosene, this change a condition of an agreement between the Government and the IMF that occurred this past February. I've been in touch with friends in Port-au-Prince. People understand the anger, and many are sensitive to the intentions of the protestors, but they do not condone violence. They are scared, they are impatient to get back to their daily lives, to being parents, and to their work (or more often, their search for work). The Prime Minister and President have reversed the policy change for the time being. How long it will take things to calm down is unclear.
It is sad to once again see Haiti associated with unrest, and instability. The black smoke and burning tires are real, and so was the violence and the tragic consequences of the violence.
Just as real were the nurses and doctors pushing through barricades to get to work, the emergency response workers helping those in need, the people across the city sending each other messages of hope, advice about safety, and updates on the latest. Within and around the black smoke, was, as usual, a lot of courage and a lot of community.
I spoke with both Guilot and Darline, community leaders in Petit Trou, and there have been no protests there. They are of course following things closely, but all there has been calm. My experience in Petit Trou has been that the people communicate with local institutions effectively and directly, be that with the local health clinic or the mayor or congressmen and women.
Despite the fact that the protests didn't directly reach the community we work in, there are a few relevant touchpoints:
First and foremost, the protests reveal deep frustration and desperation in Port-au Prince, and shed light on economic conditions that make a small gas hike catastrophic. Whenever there are widespread protests in Port-au-Prince there are varied accounts of who the protestors are. Some tend to dismiss the protestors as thugs being paid by politicians seeking political advantage. Some describe grassroots movements. There is real history of both of these occurring in Haiti and my own opinion is that both of these things are happening. Regardless of where that truth lies in this case, the truth in how it relates to us here at CHP, I think, is very clear. Once again the same people are suffering in Haiti, and we ought to remember, honor, and fight for them with consistency, intentionality, and with the knowledge that the vast majority of people in Haiti are not in the streets, are not burning tires, but rather continuing to fight for their families, seek work, seek security.
The intense reaction to the price hike shows economic vulnerability on the micro scale (e.g., families absolutely unable to afford to spend even one more dollar a day), but it also speaks to economic vulnerability on a macro scale (i.e., an economy that relies too much on imports and/or donations will always be an economy that is vulnerable to outside forces; an economy that is based in one city will always be weak.)
Our work at CHP is fighting against both of these things, with an eye towards a progress that makes sense for both today and tomorrow. We aim to reinforce a local economy, create local goods, strengthen local markets, and put revenue and capital in local hands. We are seeking to bring solar power to St. Pauls' this year, and hope this project will expand more broadly to even more of the region over time. We will continue to do everything we can to invest as much as we can in Petit Trou, making it an example of what's possible—a place for rural people to raise their families.
The Haiti we know is one of great potential, beauty and possibility, and it is one well worth fighting for and investing in.