Haiti violence
Haiti violence

MARIGOT, HAITI - The U.S. State Department has called on all Americans in Haiti to remain indoors as violent protests in the capital continued over a government-ordered fuel price increase.

Protesters on Sunday burned tires in the streets of Port-au-Prince, and a nearby suburb, Petionville, looted stores, set fire to cars in front of luxury hotels and threatened to burn down the parliament building.

"Do not travel to the airport unless you confirmed your flight is departing," the U.S. State Department said in a warning posted on its website Sunday. "Flights are canceled today and the airport has limited food and water available."

Several airlines canceled their flights into Haiti in the wake of the violence. Some airlines tweeted air service would begin again Monday.

The protests were ongoing even after Haitian President Jovenel Moise rescinded his administration’s decision to hike gas prices by 49 percent.

“Gas prices will go back to what they were previously nationwide,” Moise announced in a national address late Saturday. The president also called for calm, asking protesters to clear the streets and allow police to restore order. At least three people were killed in the protests, which began Friday.

More than 120 Americans, however, are sheltering in a Port-au-Prince hotel where protesters tried to set the building on fire and get past security.  Youth groups and missionaries from U.S. churches in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among those stranded in the Caribbean nation

There have been no reports of injuries to U.S. citizens.

A security guard at the parliament shared a video with VOA, showing dark smoke coming from a burning tire in front of the complex, as multiple gun shots could be heard in the background.

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.

Before Moise rolled back his decision, the price of gas had been increased to $4.75 (309 Haitian gourdes) per gallon, more than twice as much as most Haitians' daily income.

Kange Makenson, a Haitian man who was protesting in Port-au-Prince, told VOA the people can’t even afford basic necessities and the price increase would just make life harder.

“When we voted for this president, we weren’t voting to be abused by his administration,” he said. “I believe these protests will force the government to go back on its decision. When you consider the cost of basic necessities -- a small can of rice costs 69 cents (45 gourdes) -- we expect higher gas prices to lead to price hikes on everything.”

VOA Creole stringers reported seeing burning tires and looting in Carrefour, Jeremie, Jacmel and Les Calles. The situation in northern cities, such as Cape Haitian and Fort Liberte, were reportedly calm, with few cars on the roads.

Asked how she felt about the violent protests and looting, Gislaine Jeudy of Marigot, which is a few kilometers from Jacmel, said it was discouraging and unnecessary.

Haiti violence
Burnt cars remain parked in a commercial area that was looted during protests against fuel price increases in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2018.

“When they (thugs) loot and create chaos in the city it hurts us because we need a functioning city to buy what we need.  When our gardens don’t produce what we need we go to town and buy it.  So this hurts us,” she said.

Haitians told VOA after the president’s speech that they were not impressed with his tone nor his review of his administration’s accomplishments.  Most adopted a wait-and-see attitude, and anticipated more trouble.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In announcing the increase, the government had said it would boost gasoline prices by 38 percent, diesel by 47 percent and kerosene by 51 percent. The proposed price increases followed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to stop subsidizing energy prices so more of the budget could be put toward social services and improved infrastructure.

"The Haitian population is one of the most exposed in the world to natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods and earthquakes," according to The World Bank.  

Almost 40,000 people continue to live in makeshift camps in Haiti, following an earthquake that struck the country eight years ago, killing more than 200,000 people.

VOA Creole Service stringers Matiado Vilme and Renand Toussaint in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.