I honestly can’t blame the people for protesting. Gas prices rising more than $1 per gallon overnight was more than people living below $2 per day could handle. This cost hike means death and starvation for families across the nation.
On Friday, I was all set to go to Haiti, leading a team of American volunteers to work in the many programs at the LiveBeyond base in Thomazeau. I was especially looking forward to going since my husband and I lived there for two years, and I’ve been going down since the earthquake in 2010.
We have made some great friends through our work. I taught English as a Second Language and Creole literacy, and my husband led several disaster relief, construction and agricultural development projects. Haiti and its people have a large portion of our hearts.
But later that night around, 10 p.m., we started getting several news alerts and calls about protests that led to our chief executive’s decision to cancel the team. People were flooding the streets to demonstrate their opposition to rising gas prices.
What were a few isolated roadblocks became a widespread revolt against a government that announced the price escalation after Brazil was eliminated from the World Cup. Soccer is one of Haiti’s favorite pastimes. To announce this plan after the loss of one of the people’s favorite teams (when the other favorite team, Argentina, was already eliminated) was hitting people while they were down. Seeing the violence unfolding, I was heartbroken and also very concerned for my friends and family members dealing with this in Haiti.
I honestly can’t blame the people for protesting. Gas prices rising more than $1 per gallon overnight was more than people living on less than $2 per day could handle. This cost hike means death and starvation for families across the nation. It also falls heavily on the lowest strata of society — children, the ones most likely to miss a meal if the breadwinners can’t find enough food to support all of them. And what parents wouldn’t revolt if they thought protest could save their children?
I also can’t blame the government too much. At least, I can’t blame them for their vision. The price hike was to pay for better infrastructure across Haiti — more hospitals, better roads, energy projects. But the execution might have been planned a little better, which the president admitted. Both the size of the increase, more than half of most Haitians’ daily income, and the overnight timing, would make anyone protest, including me, not to mention those who are already struggling to feed their families. I’m thankful that the Haitian government has halted the gas hike, at least for now. But the citizens live in constant fear it could happen again at any time.
In addition, it seems political adversaries are using the protests to their advantage, attempting to push each other out in a power struggle. And in the end, who gets hurt the worst? The local Haitians who find themselves stuck in the middle.
So, what is there to say?
I cannot speak for Haiti or its people as I am not Haitian myself. But I can speak to what I know based on my experiences there.
First, most people in Haiti are not protesting or looting. Most are fleeing from the danger, staying home, and searching for ways to protect their children. They, like us, want to live in a place where this type of uncertainty doesn’t exist. Many Haitians struggle to make ends meet due to the widespread poverty caused by years of oppression, natural disasters and corruption. These are good people who just don’t have the resources to improve their situations. That’s why our organization is here, along with hundreds of other nonprofits across the island nation.
Second, this should not be the definition of what Haiti is to the world. Haiti is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. Watching the rain clouds roll in over the mountains or the sun set over the western bay are some of my favorite things about Haiti. The cultural traditions of hospitality and generosity run deep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited a village to find that chairs had been borrowed from neighbors and friends to make my visit more enjoyable. And while I haven’t ventured into all of the delicacies of the Haitian diet, I can attest that the food is almost as good as the people.
Haiti is more than these protests. The perseverance of the Haitian people is something to be admired worldwide. It is our job to stand with our friends in Haiti, praying for them and doing what we can to help make a brighter future for the country and its people.
Devin Vanderpool is the director of communications for LiveBeyond in Grand Prairie. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
What’s your view?
Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.