Uprising in Jérémie. December 5,2012 Isabelle L Papillon, Haïti Libèrté
Violent protests shook the southwestern city of Jérémie for four consecutive days from Nov. 27 to Nov. 30. The town’s angry population blocked the vehicles of the Brazilian construction company Construtora OAS, which was contracted under the administration of René Préval (2006-2010) to build 70 kilometers of road linking Jérémie with the southern city of Aux Cayes. The US$95 million road project, for the leg from Jérémie to Camp Perrin, was financed by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) and the Canadian government.
The Haitian government, which should have been monitoring the work of the Brazilian company, has accused it of failing to honor its commitments and of abandoning the project for months. In response, Construtora OAS says that the delay in completing the work is the fault of Haitian authorities, who owe them some $40 million. Who is right and who is wrong?
The population of Jérémie has made its ruling, blocking the movement of any OAS equipment unless work on the road project is resumed immediately. Demonstrators are also demanding electrification and repair of the city’s water system. Jérémie, located in Haiti’s Grand Anse department, is plagued with blackouts and is highly vulnerable to the cholera epidemic imported into Haiti by UN occupying troops in October 2010.
According to press reports, a young boy from Saint-Hélène named Hilder Victor was killed by gunfire during the four days of protests. But protestors say there were other fatalities: people suffocated by tear gas. They also say there were about a dozen people wounded by bullets. The residence of the mother of the Government Commissioner of Jérémie, Antoine Rosny Saint-Louis, was ransacked, public buildings were pelted with stones, and police officers were injured by thrown rocks and bottles.
The arrival in Jérémie on Nov. 29 of a contingent of the Haitian National Police’s anti-riot squad, the Corps for Intervention and Maintenance of Order (CIMO), aimed at quelling the revolt, only angered the protesters.
“President Martelly lied to the population of the Grand Anse,” said one protester. “He promised to build an airport, a power plant, schools, supply of the city of Jérémie with drinking water, among other things. We have not received anything after more than a year and a half. Today, we have rebelled against the lies, the disrespect for the people of the city of poets, the lung of the country. And they sent MINUSTAH troops and a CIMO force to shoot at us and bombard us with tear gas. Even children were not spared. We’re not afraid of these forces. We are organizing to give them a response with our own means.”
Within the city, protesters erected barricades of burning tires. All activities were completely paralyzed. Transit was blocked for several days. Until Dec. 2, despite the visit of a government delegation led by Interior Minister Ronsard Saint-Cyr, the situation has not returned to normal.
During all the protests, demonstrators demand the completion of the road construction and sing: “The money for the Jérémie road, we won’t let them steal it. For the money for that road, we will go to the cemetery, Lord!”
The protesters also denounced former Senator Michel Clérier who owns a radio station in Jérémie which broadcasts only pro-Martelly propaganda. Demonstrators said that population of the Grand Anse department are treated like “poor cousins” by most of Haiti’s leaders, and particularly by the Martelly regime. The first major project benefitting the population, initiated under the Préval government, has been abruptly stopped under the Martelly government without any explanation. The population worries that the funds earmarked for the construction of this road might be diverted for other purposes. That is why the city is rising up to demand the resumption of basic services such as electricity, water, school construction, and an airport.
The Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communication, Jacques Rousseau, confirmed that Construtora OAS officials are in touch with him about the situation in Jérémie. He also told the public that work on the road project will resume by February 2013. But the people of Jérémie remain very skeptical and want much more detailed explanations.