Haiti

Flights slowly resume in Haiti after gas price hike reversed but tensions remain high

This is what it’s like driving to the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Haiti Sunday as some flights resumed service.

As Haiti entered a third day of civil unrest, some airline flights to the country resumed. Haitians had been protesting a 38 percent gas price hike by the government with flaming road barricades and sporadic looting.
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As Haiti entered a third day of civil unrest, some airline flights to the country resumed. Haitians had been protesting a 38 percent gas price hike by the government with flaming road barricades and sporadic looting.

At least three U.S. carriers resumed flying in and out of Haiti's capital Sunday as the country attempted to return to normal following days of civil unrest that left businesses burned and looted, and saw streets barricaded with burning tires.

Spirit and Jetblue airlines canceled flights to Haiti Sunday, but Delta's flight from Atlanta landed and departed, and American Airlines operated round-trip flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. A number of foreign embassies in Port-au-Prince have announced they will be closed Monday. Also some members of the opposition are calling for a general strike throughout the country.

Still, tensions remained high in some areas of metropolitan Port-au-Prince and its outskirts as Haiti National Police escorted groups of U.S. citizens and some Haitians to safer locations and cleared streets road blocks. Disgruntled crowds renewed their protests in other locations while continuing to demand the departure of President Jovenel Moïse.

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"Jovenel has to leave," said one young man, who called himself Stephenson, as he stood close to a flaming barricade along the road to Delmas, a main thoroughfare out of the city. "He is lying to the people telling them he'll put food on our plates and money in our pocket. We can't stand more time with him in power. If he stays, the whole country will burn."

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The waiting area Sunday at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince after Delta and American Airlines resumed some flights on Sunday after days of civil unrest. Photos Courtesy of from Michel Eric Gaillard

On Saturday, after more than a day of protests, Moïse finally broke his silence on the unrest in a national address. Calling for calm, he urged Haitians to return home and said fuel prices had reverted to their original rates before Saturday's price hikes triggered the street actions. Under the increases, gas was to go up by 38 percent, diesel by 47 percent and kerosene by 51 percent.

Moïse's speech and and announcement that the fuel increase would temporarily be suspended didn't make much difference to some Haitians, though others attempted to resume to normal activities early Sunday, attending church and shopping for food. But they soon quickly rushed home on foot, unsure if the violence would soon flare up.

Late afternoon, about 50 people waited in the normally frenzied area outside Toussaint Louverture International Airport for a delayed American Airlines flight from Miami. The streets, normally filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic, were empty except for barricades that made for a tricky and at times scary journey.

"The route is difficult," said Bernard Castre, 57, a taxi driver who walked to the airport from his home in Delmas to retrieve his car after being forced to park it Friday when road blocks started going up. "There are a lot of stores that have been looted and vandalized."

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The waiting area Sunday at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince after Delta and American Airlines resumed some flights on Sunday after days of civil unrest. Photos Courtesy of from Michel Eric Gaillard

Castre said he hoped activities would return to normal Monday. But the damage was done, he said.

"What's happened is very bad," he said. "It's the first time that we've seen something like this. It's not good for the country because every day, things will become even more difficult with tourists."

But most Haitians and some tourists remained shut in homes, businesses or hotels, some for the third day.

"It's nerve wracking," said Jeff Jacques, a Haitian-American on vacation in Haiti who became trapped at the police station in Cabaret, where he and the 27 others members of his group had holed up from Friday night until Sunday, when a Haitian SWAT team brought them to safety.

In the police station, running low on food and concerned about safety, he contemplated an escape route: taking a boat from Cabaret over to the shores of the the all-inclusive Decameron beach resort a few miles north.

"The police say they would keep us safe but it's a panic situation," Jacques, who is from Margate, told the Miami Herald by phone before the SWAT team showed up. "We are rationing our food and we're just feeling that too many of the locals are noticing us, being an American. "

Jacques said his group was on the way back from Wahoo Bay Beach Club & Resort along National Road 1 when they got trapped by the roadblock south of them. Deciding to turn around and head back, they received word of more roadblocks ahead in neighboring Arcahaie.

"It's pretty bad there and we didn't want to risk it" because he had his children with them, Jacques said.

While this marked his third trip to Haiti, Jacques said it was the first for his four children, aged 9 to 15.

"We are explaining to them, but they are asking a lot questions. They are just very, very concerned, wondering what's going on, why can't we leave," he said. "We are just looking to get out. We had a very nice vacation planned... We haven't really bathed or slept for the past four days."

He and his group were eventually rescued by Haitian SWAT, sent by Police Chief Michel-Ange Gédéon to extract them from the Cabaret police station and take them to the SWAT's base.

Other trapped U.S. citizens were urged to stay put on Sunday as the situation remained volatile. Mobile customers were slowly regaining internet and international call access after fiber optic lines for the two mobile companies were cut or burned in the disturbance. On social media some wondered if they could get the U.S. Department of Defense to rescue stranded U.S.-citizen family members, while others posted old photos of U.S. military landings as proof U.S. troops were on their way.

U.S. Southern Command, known as Southcom, which is the Department of Defense (DOD) division responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean, said no such thing is happening.

"At this time, there has been no request for DOD assistance. The photos and videos posted on Haitian social media and WhatsApp of U.S. military personnel landing are from previous U.S. support to Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017," said Army Col. Amanda Azubuike, Southcom spokeswoman.

She added: "We are aware of the ongoing demonstrations in Haiti and urge a calm and peaceful resolution."

A number of foreign embassies in Port-au-Prince have announced they will be closed Monday. Also some members of the opposition are calling for a general strike throughout the country.

Political observers say the government of President Moïse is in a difficult spot, with demonstrations driven in part by the fuel hike but also by social problems — and demolition of seven privately-owned homes near Moïse's private residence without a court order or compensation.

"There is no other alternative. He has to go," said professor Auguste "Gougousse" D'Meza, an educational and political consultant in Port-au-Prince. "They (the people) don't believe anymore."

He said Haitians are "nou bouke" — Haitian Creole for "fed up." "We have to take our responsibility... It's done. We have to construct a new country. We are in a very special moment, a very difficult moment, and everyone needs to understand. Nou Bouke. Just like in 2004, we said, 'Nou Bouke.' Just like in 1996. This time the international community doesn't need to come and try and negotiate anything. ..If the international community thinks what is happening here is a game, then the country is going to burn."

McClatchy Correspondent Carol Rosenberg and Herald writer Harold Isaac contributed to this report.
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