VIOLENT protests in Haiti over rising inflation and allegations of government corruption have driven the country into lockdown, making it harder for humanitarian agencies to operate.
At least seven people have been killed and dozens more have been injured after rallies in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities across the Caribbean island nation, which called on President Jovenel Moïse to step down, turned violent last month.
The President has been accused of corruption over high inflation in the prices of basic goods such as rice and flour, which protesters and opposition-leaders say is funding the lavish tastes of government representatives, while driving the country further into poverty. This includes the alleged mismanagement of the PetroCaribe fund, under which Venezuela was to provide gas to Caribbean countries at a low interest rate.
President Moïse has rejected the allegations.
A statement from United Nations ambassadors last week, including the head of the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, Helen Meagher La Lime, deplored “the loss of life and property damage caused by the unacceptable acts of violence that took place on the margins of the rallies”.
The Christian charity Tearfund reported that Haitians had been “holed up” in their homes for ten days, with limited access to drinking water, food, and gas, because of road blocks. Schools, businesses, and churches had been closed; hospitals were “functioning” — but staff prioritised those injured in the protests.
Tearfund closed its Haiti office during the unrest because staff could not leave their homes to come to work. Field visits to projects were cancelled, and three visitors from the UK had to postpone their trip because of the uncertainties.
Its country representative for Haiti, Jean-Claude Cerin, said on Wednesday: “We resumed activities on Monday 18 February, but things have not completely stabilised yet. Training events, campaign activities, church and community visits, our work on environmental sustainability, all came to a standstill for ten days.
“Haitian people are very frustrated. On the one hand, people are getting poorer every day because of high rates of inflation. On the other, while people may agree with the reasons for the protests, the majority of people disagree with the violent action being taken, such as riots and arson.
“We are also tired of being locked in at home for so long, unable to go to school, work, often with no food, no water and no fuel.”
Some organisations have been reopening this week, he said, after the government released a statement to that effect, although demonstrations continue. The president has formed a Commission to facilitate a national dialogue between political and social parties within the next three months.
Mr Cerin said: “My hope is that opposition leaders might be able to agree on a common vision for the country and a strategy to get out of this situation. This would avoid a lot of suffering for the Haitian people. I also pray that the Church will be able to use its prophetic voice to contribute to a peaceful and sustainable solution to the deep-rooted problems in our country.”