“Peyi lock” are words we’ve been hearing more frequently in the past year. It translates to “country lockdown” and it’s a statement about current political issues getting so bad, the country is locked down and people can’t go about their day in a normal way.
Since last summer Haiti has been building steam toward a major outbreak of civil unrest. Chris and I have been watching it slowly roll, and after each of us spending more than a decade in country, we knew it was just a matter of time until things blew up completely.
Last summer the sitting president announced a major hike in gas prices, which is something that needs to happen, but the method was a major shock to the system, so to speak and people revolted. Since then, every few months or so, we’ve been going through days of the country being locked down, or “peyi lock”, as people protest the current government. These “lockdowns” take the form of roads being blocked by rocks, rubble, and burning tires and are manned by protestors. They can and have and do get violent at times, and in the really bad ones, police show up to try and restore order, which can result in tear gas or shooting. It’s not good, but it’s the way things work here in Haiti. This method of getting the government’s attention has been used for generations, and to the people, feels like the only way to be heard.
From an outsiders perspective it seems extreme, but I come from a country where my vote matters and my voice can be heard in many ways, so I can understand the frustration of feeling like you have to resort to extremes to have anyone pay attention. The sad part is that Haiti has built up a reputation because of this cycle, and so many of the good things that are here get missed because of it.
For the past few weeks we’ve been experiencing gas shortages and supply issues. There IS fuel in country, but businesses are not selling it consistently to put pressure on the government to raise prices. That does need to happen because Haiti was getting subsidized fuel for a long time, and the government set the price per gallon based on that, but when that supply ran out prices didn’t go up to reflect the regular market price, so Haiti has been selling fuel at a deficit for years.
As the lack of fuel increased throughout the country, people started to protest. Last week we had to stop sending staff out because we couldn’t get fuel, or because they couldn’t get where they needed to go because of roads being blocked by protestors. This week things have escalated. On Thursday rumors were circulating that Thursday would be a bit quieter, but for everyone to prepare for the “bataille finale” – the final battle – on Friday.
We’re never quite sure what to believe or listen to when rumors start to fly, so our usual approach is to just keep doing what we do every day, and see what happens without getting worked up or making big plans. CWH is very self-contained, in that we have a full solar system that powers everything for us, including our water pump that pumps water from our well to our holding tank for use around the compound. As long as our staff can get to work, we can work. And all through the unrest for the past year they’ve showed up every day, even when things were bad, so we just kept working. Yesterday we did exactly the same thing – we got up and we went to work, and so did the rest of our staff. Many were late because of road blocks between home and work, but they eventually got here and did a full day.
As the morning went on reports of major unrest through the country started to spread, including photos and videos. It’s hard to describe just how “big” this is, other than saying that Chris was here through 2003 and 2004 when things got really bad before Aristide left, and this is like that. In the 14 years that I’ve lived here, things haven’t been on this level.
I/we always try to be prudent in what we share, because we don’t want to exaggerate or blow situations out of proportion. Haiti already has enough bad press as it is. So, we try to wait and see what will happen, then share what we know to be true so those that follow what we’re doing have accurate information.
So this is what we know to be true right now…
Yesterday much of the country was shut down because of large protests. In major cities, especially Port au Prince, huge mobs took to the streets. Some were peaceful and marched and chanted. Others caused destruction of homes and businesses. Some were also violent. A lot of stuff was burned and looted. In some locations police stations were over run by gangs of people. When this happens it’s an indication that the scales have tipped, and it’s scary because everyone knows the police are already ill-equipped in situations like this. These are all things that have been verified by photos and videos, they aren’t rumor.
In our community things were quiet. The surrounding communities had roadblocks and some issues, but other than not being able to go anywhere, we weren’t affected by those. Our community has always had a reputation of being peaceful and calm and as one that doesn’t get involved in politics. We’re thankful for that because it means the mission is safe and that our staff can come and work when others aren’t able to do so.
We aren’t sure what will happen here in the next few weeks, but we know to prepare for this to continue, and we are as best we can. We’re asking you to pray for Haiti right now, and to follow along with what’s happening. One of the best news sources for what happens here is the Miami Herald. You can also sign up for our email updates and I’d encourage you to follow our Facebook page. We’ve recently started doing video updates so we can get a bit more personal in how we share.
Thanks for praying for this beautiful, complex country that we love so much.