Haiti: new general strike shuts down capital

A general strike by Haitian transit workers and opposition groups paralyzed Port-au-Prince and some other cities Feb. 9-10 in a protest against high fuel prices and the government of President Michel Joseph Martelly. With most forms of public transportation shut down, the capital's streets were empty except for rocks and burning tires that strike supporters set up as barricades; some streets were turned into improvised soccer fields. People generally stayed home, and most government offices, businesses, banks and schools were closed. There was little violence, although one police agent, Ravelin Yves André, reportedly received a stab wound in the impoverished Cité Soleil sector while trying to remove burning tires.

Petit-Goâve and Miragoâne in South department observed the strike, while Cap-Haïtien in North department and Les Cayes in South department mostly ignored it the first day, according to media reports. There was more strike activity in Cap-Haïtien the second day, while a few people went back to work in Port-au-Prince, where the government provided some free bus service.

This was the second general strike in a week over fuel prices. A two-day strike called by transit workers for Feb. 2-3 ended after one day when the government agreed to lower gasoline prices from 215 gourdes to 195 gourdes (about US$4.58 to US$4.15) for a gallon, with corresponding reductions for diesel fuel and kerosene. But the second general strike was more political, with support from such opposition groups as the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). The government refused to consider the protesters' demand for a price reduction of 100 gourdes (about US$2.17). Officials said the country needed to pay off some of a large debt for the oil it has acquired through Venezuela's Petrocaribe program. But many people disagreed. "We are poor, we cannot live anymore," a driver of one of the minibuses known as tap-taps complained to a reporter. "Gasoline prices are falling worldwide, so it should be the same here in Haiti." (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 9, Feb. 10, Feb. 10; Reuters, Feb. 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 15.