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Protesters clash with police following rain in Haiti

February 11, 2010

by Kevin Pina

A demonstrator confronts Haitian police as they block the march towards U.N. headquarters. – Photo: HIP
Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP) — About one inch of rain fell on the capital of Port au Prince early this morning sparking angry protests that tied up traffic near the airport for nearly four hours.

At 4:30 a.m. as the rain began to fall, a collective wail could be heard rising from the makeshift camps of those left homeless due to a massive earthquake that rocked Haiti on Jan. 12. Cries of helplessness and misery quickly turned into shouts of anger and invectives against Haitian President Rene Preval as thousands then took to the streets in several spontaneous street demonstrations.

Throughout one of the largest marches that headed towards the United Nations headquarters located near the airport, protesters also sang, “If Aristide were here, he would be soaked along with us.” The reference was to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a coup in 2004 and continues to live in exile in the Republic of South Africa.

Protesting the lack of shelter after they were soaked by the first heavy rain since the earthquake, Haitians took to the streets headed toward U.N. headquarters near the airport as the sun broke through the rain clouds. – Photo: HIP
Aristide offered to return to Haiti to assist in relief and reconstruction efforts, but Preval and the Obama administration have rebuffed the offer. The U.S. currently has as many as 20,000 U.S. Marines on the ground ostensibly to aid in relief efforts following the quake that killed an estimated 200,000 and left more than a million homeless.

A quick visit to the homeless camps in the center of the capital showed why the homeless victims of the quake feel as if the pace of relief efforts has been too slow. Lack of proper shelter and sanitation left children lying in pools of water clearly contaminated by feces as families desperately tried to salvage and dry out their belongings as the morning sun broke through the clouds.

Demonstrators clash with Haitian police. – Photo: HIP
Before today’s rain, epidemics of diarrhea, flu, scabies, ringworm and many other preventable diseases were already raging through the makeshift camps that are estimated to be home to more than 300,000 people in the capital alone. The situation has grown increasingly desperate during the past week as complaints of corruption and incompetence in managing relief efforts by the Preval government and the U.N. have grown in proportion from the camp residents.

“We can’t take this anymore!” shouted the protestors as the march snaked through traffic towards the Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport currently under the control of the U.S. military.

The sign reads, “The rain has soaked us. MINUSTAH (UN) must go. We need help. We need aid.” – Photo: HIP
As the march approached U.N. headquarters where relief efforts are currently being organized, a line of shield and club wielding Haitian riot police barred their progress. The police held the march back as a short scuffle broke out with angry protesters demanding tents, food, water and the return of former President Aristide to help in relief efforts.

Two protesters received minor scrapes and injuries as the police pushed a few of them towards a deep canal lining the road, where they fell in. There were no reports of injuries to the police as the march turned back and protesters began blocking the main road to the airport with large rocks and debris.

©2010 Haiti Information Project won the Project Censored 2008 Real News Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. Kevin Pina of HIP is Haiti correspondent to Flashpoints, heard weekdays at 5 p.m. on KPFA 94.1 and dozens of other stations nationwide. He can be reached at kp@teledyol.net.

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