Haitian-Americans In South Florida Reflect On Recent Riots In Haiti

Jul 12, 2018

What happens in Haiti is felt in South Florida. 

Recent protests in Haiti over hikes in fuels costs caused many in the Haitian diaspora to reflect on the politics and stability of the island. 

"If you're not from Haiti you might not understand the psychological wounds and scars of someone who lives there, said MJ Fievre, a Haitian author and translator.

The Haitian government has temporarily suspended increases in fuel costs, following protests that set parts of Port-au Prince and surrounding areas on fire. Streets  were impassable and Haitians and tourists were asked to shelter in place as riots broke out in the streets.  Some of the demonstrations turned violent and deadly.

The plan  that sparked wide-spread outrage was an  increase in  the cost of gas by 38 percent, diesel by 47 percent and kerosene by 51 percent.

The push to raise fuel prices came as part of an agreement with The International Monetary Fund. The Haitian government would stop subsidizing the cost of fuel and implement several other social measures to get access to $96 million in low-interest loans and grants.

As resistance to the plan unfolded almost immediately, members of South Florida’s Haitian community watched closely on their TV screens and followed the news on social media and group chats.  

"It might not be pretty what we're seeing on our TV screen, but we also have to understand that this is a population that's been through so much," said Krystina Francois  who left Haiti in 2004 after anti-government protests persisted for weeks at a time. 

Fievre and  Francois  shared their thoughts about the most recent protests with WLRN. 

Credit MJ Fievre

MJ Fievre, South Florida-based author and Haitian-Creole translator

As I was listening to the news from Haiti, I was brought back to my childhood in Port au Prince,when I quivered in fear to the sound of gunshots and angry voices outside the window.

I remember the noises: people screaming, crying, running, the sirens.

I remember the smell of gasoline and smoke and the smell of fear.

Schools stayed closed for days, sometimes two weeks at a time because Port-Au-Prince was burning.

My family stayed close to the phone, to the radio, to the TV— waiting for updates, wondering when can we finally go out. When can we know that we're safe? What has been destroyed today? And more importantly, who has been killed. This was the 80s and the 90s and the 2000s. It never stops.

I haven't slept for the past days as I still have family in Haiti.

I received a video of my old dance school burning. A school that opened the year I was born and where Haitian youth could learn ballet, jazz and roots dance in Port-Au-Prince. I was a student [there] for almost 20 years. In good and bad times, the school trained many generations of dancers using the arts to contribute to the advancements of Haitian culture.

Whenever the government shows its ineptitude and the people's rage follows, small business owners, the mom and pop establishments, those pay the price.

If you're not from Haiti you might not understand the psychological wounds and scars of someone who lives there.

We grew up with the knowledge that what is today might not be tomorrow.

I was one of the lucky ones when I lived there.

Some Haitians have nothing to even to hold on to so I understand the fury over the gas prices, over the government decisions, but the one's paying the price of these protests are not necessarily the ones who created the crisis.

The [dance] school will be rebuilt, that I know. All those places will be rebuilt because Haitians never give up. We pick up the pieces because life has to go on.

Credit Krystina Francois

Krystina François, nonprofit consultant

I've been really anxious about the news coming out of Haiti regarding the protests that have escalated due to the increase in gas prices and kerosene prices.

This reminds me of what happened in 2004. I was a freshman in high school living in Haiti at the time and had to move back to the states after a really turbulent year and a half with constant protests.

It is out of frustration and desperation that people are doing their protests and burning things because really there's been stagnation.

The average Haitian worker hasn't really seen an improvement in their conditions and that's because the country is not for them.

You know, I like the new hotels and the restaurants, which are all fun things that I enjoy when I go back to visit. I was just there last Christmas, [but] it really does not benefit the local people.

And here we our president makes a deal with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) knowing that the IMF has a history of making really, really bad deals.

And so for the president to make a deal to not subsidize fuel prices, knowing that the average worker in Haiti makes two U.S. dollars, a day is ridiculous.

I would be upset.

And I think that it's really important for the big diaspora population in South Florida to stand up and get the real story out there about why it is that people are in the streets.

It's easy to write off that. Yes, Haiti's unstable yet again

It might not be pretty what we're seeing on our TV screen but we also have to understand that this is a population that's been through so much. And they're the only people that are fighting for themselves. They know that nobody else is going to fight for them. And so I respect that.

I will always be on their side.