News: Food Riots in Haiti

The rising cost of basic commodities and foodstuffs over the past year due to the increased cost of oil has led to food riots across the globe [ Time Mag]. In the past few days, riots have broken out throughout Haiti, most notably in Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes. We’re hearing from our Haiti program manager Beth that the situation is becoming more tense in Cap-Haitien. People are throwing rocks at cars crossing over the bridge that leads to the airport from the city center.

The Causes:

  • The cost of staples such as rice, beans, food and condensed milk have increased by 50%. The majority of Haitians (80% of the population) live below the poverty line and most of Haiti’s food is imported. Update: “The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen” [NYTimes].
  • Humanitarian aid has been held up in customs, with much simply rotting. Why on earth is that happening? Politics. The Preval government has been trying to deal with the rampant corruption that plagues Haiti and has particularly targeted drug trafficking through the ports. Jonathan Katz, an AP reporter, suggests that government red tape is the primary cause of delays. From what we’ve heard on the ground however, it may be closer to the truth that those who are profiting the most from the drug trade are willing to squeeze the poor to put pressure on the government or worse, cause the government to ultimately fall.
  • To give you a sense of the current level inflation, when we were there in February, gas was $5.50 a gallon in Cap. It has since increased to $6 or $7/gallon.
  • Oh and of course, the Haitian government is broke, flat broke.

Riots

Les Cayes (April 3-7)

  • 4 killed in demonstrations, including one man who was reportedly shot in the head by UN peacekeepers, and 20 wounded in Haiti’s 3rd largest city. [BBC, April 05 2008 ]
  • Approximately 5,000 protesters stormed and looted both a police station and a UN base in Les Cayes last Thursday[BBC, April 05 2008 ].
  • One person was killed and dozens injured Monday in the southern city of Les Cayes [Relief Web, Apr 08 2008].

Video from Reuters

Les Cayes is generally a fairly quiet town. The fact that such widespread riots occurred there is a definite indicator of people’s desperation.

Gonaives

  • Hundreds more demonstrated in the northwestern port city of Gonaives. UN workers were evacuated to a police base there, though protests in the coastal city remained peaceful [Globe and Mail].

Port-au-Prince (April 7-8)

  • Protesters angered by food prices flooded the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, forcing businesses and schools to close as unrest spread from the countryside. [NYT, Apr 08 2008]
  • The protests in Port-au-Prince remained relatively small, between 500 and 1,000, for the group that demonstrated in front of the Parliament building. [Miami Herald, Apr 07 2008]
  • Hungry Haitians stormed the presidential palace Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Rene Preval over soaring food prices, and U.N. peacekeepers chased them away with rubber bullets and tear gas. [Miami Herald, Apr 08 2008]
  • The protesters also are demanding the departure of the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers, whom they blame in part for rising food prices… Government officials say the riots are being manipulated by outside forces, specifically drug smugglers who can operate more easily amid chaos and supporters of Guy Philippe, a fugitive rebel leader wanted in U.S. federal court in connection with a drug indictment [Miami Herald, Apr 08 2008].

Update: More video footage


Duration: 1min 55sec
Demonstrations in Haiti and El Salvador [Reuters]

Video from BBC News: Rioting in Haiti and Egypt

Protests have also been also reported in Lefcaye[Relief Web, Apr 08 2008] and Petit Goâve.

Related Posts:
Update: Food Riots in Haiti [April 17, 2008]
Eyewitness Accounts of Riots in Haiti [April 9, 2008]
To go or not to go: How AIDG Haiti handled the uncertain security situation [April 23, 2008]

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