February 27, 2019 — The Jesuits of Haiti, members of the Jesuit province of Canada, have detailed the dangerous circumstances facing the Haitian population resulting from widespread violent protests.
Haitians have been experiencing political unrest for months, which intensified on the second anniversary of the election of President Jevenel Moïse in early February. Protestors are decrying uncontrolled inflation, government corruption and lack of general economic relief and are calling for President Moïse to step down.
A man holds a weapon next to burning barricades during anti-government protests in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters)
With much of the country still reeling from the devastating earthquake of 2010 and a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in October 2018, Haitians are suffering from a lack of supplies and are living in life-threatening conditions.
“The population, left to its own devices, remained trapped in their homes for fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everywhere, here in Port-au-Prince and in the cities of the provinces, there is fear and uncertainty,” wrote Fr. Jean Denis Saint-Felix, SJ, superior of the Jesuits in Haiti. “Daily demonstrations turn into scenes of violence and looting.”
A boy carrying his bicycle passes through a barricade on the outskirts of Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, in July. At least four people were killed in three days of protests against a steep hike in fuel prices imposed by the Haitian government. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)
The overwhelmed police can only stand back, or else risk being targeted by angry crowds. Demonstrators have blocked off national roads and main arteries with barricades of burning debris, preventing food, water, medical help and anything else from reaching those who need it.
The Jesuits are not exempt from the situation, Fr. Saint-Felix reported. “On the Jesuit side: like the population, we got stuck in the communities — caution is required. … The streets were scary and deserted, except for the barricades that were still visible, and tires were still burning. We know very well that in all this the real victims are the most vulnerable, the poorest.”
The Jesuits of Haiti, including Superior Fr. Jean Denis Saint-Felix, SJ, (fourth from left) and Canadian Provincial Fr. Erik Oland, SJ (far left).
In early February, a boat of migrants desperate to escape the deadly protests sank north of the Bahamas, claiming the lives of 28 people. The Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti urged a solution to the protests. “We must wake up to take together the full measure of the danger that threatens us all. This is the moment to join our forces and our intelligence to save our common boat, Haiti, which is our pride,” they said following the incident.
Fr. Saint-Felix is reaching out to the global Jesuit network for support. “We want to mobilize all our human and material resources, all our contacts and talents, both national and international, to smooth the ground for this dialogue with a view to building the new society of which we all dream,” he wrote.
Men carry bags amid debris July 9 following clashes in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)
“We would like to learn from the experience and expertise of our Jesuit brothers and universities who have participated in these same processes in countries such as El Salvador and Colombia, to name just a few. We count on the solidarity of the CPAL, the JCU, the Universal Society and the assistance of all men and women of good will to be able to respond effectively to our mission of justice and reconciliation here and now.
“We remain confident in the Lord of life so that he may give us the grace to discern the best way to be present among his people so that hope may finally spring up on this earth.”
Read more from Fr. Saint-Felix on the situation in Haiti:
From a “locked country’ to a “ruined country”
Humanitarian disaster, irresponsibility of our leaders and the urgency of national dialogue