Rioting in Haiti

You may have heard in the news that there was rioting, some looting, and at least three deaths in Port-au-Prince, Cap Haitien, and several other larger towns over the weekend.

First, let me share that everyone on staff in Haiti is safe. Thank you to all who expressed concern. We’ll keep you posted on any changes.

As you may know, demonstrations started spontaneously on Friday afternoon after the Haitian government announced that prices for gasoline, diesel, and kerosene would increase by between 38 and 51 percent.

This increase was due to an agreement that the government made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in February. In exchange for a financial assistance package, the government agreed to increase spending on basic social services and infrastructure, improve tax collection, and reduce subsidies for fuel, which contributed greatly to the government’s chronic budget deficit.
Under pressure from the prospect of continued disorder, the government suspended their decision on Saturday afternoon.

Beyond Borders certainly doesn’t condone the violence and the destruction of property that some of those demonstrating engaged in. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to understand why this announcement sparked such a violent reaction.Consider first what a price increase like this would mean for a huge portion of the population where nearly 60% of the population live in poverty and a quarter live in extreme poverty on incomes that average less than $1.25 U.S. per day.

The pain of the sudden spike in fuel prices would have been widespread as the cost would have been passed along to consumers in higher prices for transportation, food and virtually everything else. If your children were already going hungry several days a week because you couldn’t afford to feed them, a price hike could feel like their very lives were being threatened.

Most Haitians are already victims of structural violence, born into an economic and social order that puts much of what they need out of reach. Those already living in extreme poverty live a precarious existence where even a small disruption can cause great harm. It is the sort of shock that would lead some parents to decide to part with one or more of their children and send them to live with other families where they are at risk of becoming enslaved.

Adding to the anger of many is the scandalous inequality in wealth and income in Haiti. In the most recent ranking, only four nations scored higher on the Gini index of income inequality. So, poorer Haitians, especially those living in Port-au-Prince, see the walled villas, the luxury hotels, and the lavish restaurants surrounded by armed guards, and know that the system is rigged against them.

That system does not exist in isolation. It is part of a global system that I am part of. As someone born into a middle-class American family, it is important for me to remember that I did not earn the privilege I was born in to. The system was rigged in my favor at birth. Living in Haiti helped me to begin to see some of my privileges, and curiosity about Haiti’s history has helped me begin to understand how much of this privilege was built through exploitation and violence.

It’s not our fault if we are born into a measure of privilege. However, our privilege places on us a moral obligation to use our power to work for justice and to be an ally of those working non-violently in places like Haiti to change systems that leave so many so very vulnerable. That is what Beyond Borders is committed to doing in Haiti, and your support makes it possible.

Thank you so much for all that you do for the struggle for justice, especially in Haiti. Together we will continue working for an end to violence, both the kind that erupts suddenly and the structural violence that endures for centuries.

Reflections by David Diggs,

Beyond Borders
Co-founder & Executive Director.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times.