As many of you already know either from watching the news or seeing the post on the All Things New Facebook page, there is major unrest going on in Haiti even as I type this. This is n0t the normal unrest that happens frequently in Haiti, this is the type of unrest that can do as much damage to a nation as a natural disaster. There are roadblocks everywhere, the skies are dark with the smoke of burning debris and tires, there are gunshots, and there is looting throughout the capital. If you plan on going down to Haiti soon, cancel those plans. As I write this things have quieted down some (based on reports that we get, we are in the states right now) but they could very quickly flare back up without notice. Before I write the rest of this blog, it is important for you to know that our kids and Ezekyal are all ok. They are staying around their houses and the protests have not really left the major highways yet so please continue to pray that this is the case.
The reason for this is both simple and very complicated at the same time. It is simple in that the government announced a hike in gas prices nationwide from 179 HTG (about $2.75) to 265 HTG (about $4.05) or a 47% increase (prices listed are for diesel fuel but similar increases were called for gasoline and kerosene as well). It is complicated because of Haiti’s political and economic situation. The last few days have seen an already tense political environment explode into almost mass chaos as people have setup impassable road blocks, engaged in large scale looting, and set cars and buildings ablaze. Many of us will see things like this in the news and our first thought will be something like, “I’m glad I don’t live there” or “That’s just Haiti” and I really cannot blame anyone who thinks these things. In fact, had we not taken a life-changing trip back in December 2011, I would have probably thought some variation of those same things. I want to take some time to tell you about what is going on from the perspective of an American who lives in Haiti by asking and answering some questions you may have:
Why Such a Sharp Increase in Gas Prices?
When you purchase a gallon of gas in America, you are paying the price of the gas, a slight markup (the average gas station makes about 3 cents per gallon) for the retailer, a federal tax of 18.4 cents, and a state tax that varies from state to state. In Haiti, gas prices are actually subsidized by the Haitian government so that a gallon of gas actually costs the consumer less than it cost to import the gas. As you can imagine, this costs the Haitian government a huge amount each year. Recently the IMF (International Monetary Fund) told the Haitian government that to procure aid dollars promised from nations like France and the United States, certain requirements would have to be met. One of those requirements was to put a halt to subsidized gas prices and to put that money towards infrastructure and social causes. Putting a halt to those subsidies would raise the price of a gallon of gas the 47% that I mentioned earlier.
Why People are Rioting?
After reading that last paragraph many of you may be thinking (and this was my initial thought) that it seems logical that a government struggling for money should cut costs where possible and subsidized gas seems like a good starting place. Not to mention that millions of aid dollars are tied to following these IMF requirements. But then you think about it from the perspective of the average Haitian. A person who, if history repeats itself, will see no benefit from the aid dollars that come in. A person who hears about an increase in gas prices that will immediately and dramatically affect their lives as tap taps (Haitian taxis) will shut down, motos will be harder to operate, and the cost of food will (no matter how slightly) increase. A person who has absolutely no voice in the decision making process unless they force their voice to be heard. So what do they do…They force their voices to be heard.
The 3 Forces at Play:
- The government who is being pressured by the IMF.
- The common person who believes that an increase in gas prices will affect their lives.
- The opposition to the President who have been waiting and trying to create chaos so that they could overthrow the current regime. They have been working behind the scenes paying people to riot and trying to convince the people that they would be better off without the current government in power.
These 3 opposing forces will make it very difficult to come up with a positive solution and it is hard to see how things will eventually play out. The truth is, it is very easy to see this problem both from the perspective of the government and from the common Haitian and neither is completely wrong in their thinking. The President is scheduled to give a press conference later today and we should find out a lot about how things are going based on that information.
The bottom line is that things in Haiti are not good right now. The government almost immediately rescinded the rise in gas prices and many hoped that this would quell the riots. It did not. Instead it seemingly emboldened the opposition and the rioters to push for even more. They won the battle of gas prices and now they are pushing for the Prime Minister and ultimately the President to resign. This will not be a quick and/or easy solution and it is hard to tell how things are going to end. For now, please pray for Haiti in general. Pray for our kids and that the violence and chaos would stay away from them (I promise to write a blog either tomorrow or the next day explaining the implications for All Things New and updating you on how things are going). Ultimately pray that peace and calm would prevail and that a solid solution would be found moving forward that would put an end to the chaos.