PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Thousands of people filled the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, Sunday, responding to a call by some of the nation’s most popular artists to join them in demanding the president’s resignation.
Rapper Izolan, who led the movement under the theme "Lage Pye Ou" (step on it) with the hashtag Rebat Kat La (reshuffle the deck of cards), was joined by fellow musicians, posting plans on social media and asking participants to wear white shirts, a sign of peace. The turnout was overwhelming, despite some controversy that threatened to spoil plans on Saturday. Izolan denounced in a tweet, efforts by fellow rapper Fantom to discourage people from participating in the protest, and accepting money not to show up.
Fantom, a member of the group Barikad Crew, posted his own tweet criticizing the protest as “bourgeois” and not representative of the poor and their daily tribulations.
Who showed up
“I’m here to support my friend Izolan,” popular singer Kreyol la (Ti Jo Zenny), dressed in white told VOA Creole. “This is an artist movement. Our position is clear, “ he said, surrounded by fans.
“The people need work, they need food, they need hospitals,” DJ Roger told VOA Creole. He said he decided to participate in the protest to demand change.
Politicians joined the march too, to call for the president to step down.
“It’s nothing personal, this is a collective demand, this is about Haiti,” Port-au-Prince Mayor Youri Chevry said. “We need to reduce the distance between the rich and the poor in this country.”
Opposition senators Antonio Cheramy and Youri Latortue also joined the protesters as they marched downtown.
The protest, which started a few blocks away from the National Palace and made its way up to the affluent suburb of Petionville, had a festive vibe. Musicians stood atop a truck - carnival style - and led the people singing chants like “Lage Pye Ou” (Step on it), the protest theme, “Jojo Mele” (the president’s in trouble) and “Jojo domi deyo” (the president spent the night out).
When the crowd reached Petionville, they stood in front of the police station and chanted “Grenadye a laso” a motto that harkens back to the time of the revolution, when the nation gained its independence from France.
The crowd dispersed when shots were fired. It is unclear who was firing or if anyone was injured. From Petionville, the crowd headed back downtown.
Protesters speak out
An aspiring artist participating in the march told VOA Creole he felt proud.
“Today everyone realizes that Haiti has lost its footing, it’s rolling in a wheelchair,” he said. “We’re in the streets asking for food for the poor, health care for the people of Cite Soleil (slum) we want security for Martissant, Carefour Feuille, La Saline (poor neighborhoods), and 24 hour electricity - the president lied to us.”
Another protester wearing a white T-shirt, cowboy hat and rainbow sunglasses said he had a message for Americans and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump, at least you are the president of a country where there is morality. Please, help the Haitian people get rid of this trash (the president). A small plane would suffice,” he said. “We’ll be rid of this trash and then the next day, we’ll start cleaning up the country.”
What sparked protests
Haiti has seen months of protests sparked by corruption allegations, a fuel shortage, high inflation, unemployment, crime and what people consider to be the president’s failed leadership.
President Moise has not been seen or heard since last week when he made a surprise visit to a market in Petionville. He has attempted to respond to the protesters’ demands by reshuffling his cabinet and forming a commission to organize a national dialogue to discuss ways to solve the nation’s problems - an idea backed by the international community.
But the opposition says it’s too little too late, and they will not accept anything less than the president’s letter of resignation. Until then, they plan to be out in the streets, locking down the nation, until their demand is met.