Cars stopped on the road at Gressiers
Cars stopped on the road at Gressiers

LEOGANE, HAITI - Anti-government protesters in Haiti organized a general strike Monday after violent fuel protests left at least four people dead.

The normally bustling capital, Port-au-Prince, was mostly quiet as many people stayed home.

Smaller-scale protests took place in the capital Monday, the fourth day of unrest over a proposed rise in fuel prices. Demonstrators marched on the parliament building before being turned back by police, and protesters set fire to a tax office in the Tabarre area of the city.

The Haitian government suspended the proposed fuel price hike Saturday after widespread violence broke out across the capital.

People run after cars were set on fire near a Best
People run after cars were set on fire near a Best Western hotel during protests over a fuel price increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2018.

The government had originally said it would raise fuel prices by as much as 50 percent to balance the budget.

Trash and makeshift roadblocks made of trees, rocks, broken glass and burning tires remained on the nearly empty streets of Haitian cities — a sobering reminder of the violent protests.

While some heeded President Jovenel Moise's appeal for calm and a return to the rule of law, others ignored him and continued to terrorize their fellow citizens.

View from inside tour bus
View from inside the tour bus in Haiti.

On Sunday, a group of tourists attempting to make it to Port-au-Prince from Marigot, in Haiti's south, encountered an obstacle course of makeshift roadblocks, including a metal guard rail ripped from the roadside and laid across the road, smoldering tires, and a disabled station wagon placed in the middle of the road.

Before heading out toward Port-au-Prince, prayers were said, fingers were crossed, and calls were made to relatives and friends in the suburb of Petionville to ask about the situation.

As the tour bus transporting the 16 Haitian-Americans cleared towns and barricades that remained in the streets, there were sighs of relief and anxiety over whether they would make it to their destination safely. The situation became extremely tense when the bus reached the town of Gressiers, where cars were suddenly stopped on the dusty highway.

A makeshift roadblock made of rocks on the road to
A makeshift roadblock made of rocks on the road to Jacmel.

"No one is getting through! Turn the bus around!" a man shouted to the bus driver. Gesner, the tour guide, left the bus and went to see what was going on. He promised to text the driver once he had solid information.

While waiting anxiously for news, VOA saw a man dressed in black jeans, a black T-shirt and a black baseball cap walk down the road, toward the roadblock with a large automatic-type rifle in hand.

After a series of tense minutes, the tour guide returned, visibly shaken. Without speaking, he made a circle motion with his finger indicating turn around. "What did you see out there? " he was asked.

Leogane, Haiti

"They [thugs] have two trucks blocking the road entirely," Gesner said, adding that the group of young men were armed and made it known they were not interested in taking bribes. "They said anyone who tries to cross will be shot," he said. "We have to turn around."

Some of the tourists suggested the bus wait on the side of the road to see if the thugs had a change of heart, but the tour guide repeated that the only option was to turn around. The bus made a U-turn and headed back toward Leogane, in search of shelter and food.

. The Buccanier Beach Club hotel in Leogane where
The Buccanier Beach Club hotel in Leogane, where the tourists spent the night.

Plan A was to have lunch, then reattempt the journey out of Gressiers. Plan B was to stay at a hotel and reattempt the trip before dawn Monday.

Late in the afternoon, word came from multiple relatives in the capital that the situation was unsafe, with shooting, more looting and threats of violence overnight.

Later, a security guard working at the hotel told VOA that the roadblock at Gressiers had been cleared.

The U.S. Embassy informed Americans in Haiti that it would be closed, and advised citizens to continue sheltering in place.

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