Haitians again took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Sunday in a massive protest to reject the government of President Jovenel Moise and protest a recent spate of kidnappings.
The peaceful march, organized by Protestant pastors, included Haitians from all sectors of society, marchers said. It marked the fourth week of the country’s standoff between the president and the nation’s opposition movement.
“Today we proved to the world that the Haitian people are united. We are not divided,” anti-corruption PetroChallenger activist Reginald Dume told VOA.
“There is no difference between those who worship Voodoo, Catholics, activists, doctors, engineers,” he said. “Today it’s Haitians who are aware that we are facing huge problems and that we cannot accept dictatorship to continue.”
The march took place as Haiti is experiencing political and security turmoil and a dispute over when President Jovenel Moise’s term should end. The U.S. and the United Nations, while they have backed Moise's contention that he only has served four years of a five-year term, have called for elections this year.
On Feb. 7, Moise announced the government had thwarted an attempted coup. Three Supreme Court justices were sidelined. Last week, members of the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about Haiti’s worsening political instability.
Moise spoke to the Security Council defending the measures he has taken.
“To reinforce the rule of law … in the absence of a functioning parliament, I had to adopt certain decrees that were necessary to combat organized crime, rampant insecurity and kidnapping,” Moise said in French.
As protesters made their way through the capital, they sang, played music and chanted “Mare Jovenel, Jojo Mele,” which translates to “Arrest Jovenel.” Using “Jojo,” a nickname for the president, “Jojo Mele” means “Jojo is in trouble.”
They also chanted slogans against U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison and Helen La Lime, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative in Haiti and head of the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti, BINUH. Protesters decried La Lime’s assessment last week to the U.N. Security Council that 3,000 protesters participated in the Sunday February 21 march. They say the real number was tens of thousands.
“Today we are not 3,000 people, we are 3 million in the streets, Mrs. La Lime! Thank you,” Dume said. The VOA Creole reporters on the scene Sunday estimated the crowd at tens of thousands.
VOA Creole saw many signs in English among the massive crowd and one in multiple languages.
“We say no to dictatorship in different languages because when you say U.N. they speak a lot of languages - this is in English and Spanish and Chinese and whatever - because anyone who looks at us can understand that we say no to dictatorship,” a female protester holding a sign in multiple languages told VOA.
Lawyer Andre Michel, who represents the Democratic and Popular sector of opposition groups, said he was thrilled with the turnout.
“We are so proud because today it’s not just the opposition mobilizing. The people of Haiti are out here fighting for respect of the constitution. This is not just political,” he told VOA. “There are Protestants, Catholics, women, young people, the lower class, professionals, lawyers, doctors, union leaders. The nation is out here.”
In the wealthy suburb of Petionville, protesters gathered near the luxury Karibe hotel, near the BINUH office. There, they sent a pointed message to the international community.
“Today the situation we are living in is revolting,” Gedeon Jean, a lawyer and human rights activist, said, referring to indiscriminate kidnappings of people from all sectors of society. “We are asking Mrs. La Lime to stop supporting dictatorship. The role of the international community is to guarantee human rights, contribute to the preservation of democracy, so that people can eat and sleep and not be kidnapped.”
Bertrand Sinal, a former member of the Chamber of Deputies, a house in Haiti’s parliament, also joined the protest.
“I’m not walking as a politician I’m walking as a citizen activist and we want to tell Mrs. La Lime that since she can’t count, today she must say today there were three million people protesting, not 3,000, she must have made a mistake,” Sinal said.
There were no police interventions during the march, according to VOA Creole reporters on the scene. Police accompanied protesters as they marched throughout the capital.
But in the neighborhood of Canape Vert, several people were injured in the late afternoon when a truck overturned on the protest route.
“People started running, so I ran too and I hurt my foot and hand,” an eyewitness told VOA. “I heard (someone say) a car’s brakes went out and while I was running to protect myself, my leg hit a motorbike and I fell.”
VOA also saw a burning tire blocking a road in Canape Vert. Residents who did not wish to be identified or photographed told VOA it was their way of protesting the killing of a prominent medical doctor and his child during a failed kidnapping attempt earlier on Sunday.
Florence Lisene in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.