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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Manifestations in Jacmel: My take.

My HUGE disclaimer at the beginning of this post is this--  what I am about to say here is simply MY observations based on what we're seeing.  I am not claiming that I have the correct handle on situation or that this is the definitive story-- on the contrary, I am sure it is not.  But this is as close to the truth of the matter as I know now.

So-- my story will begin with last Saturday night. Saturday night a prominent agronomist Jean Marie Patrice Etienne was brutally murdered and his three-year-old nephew, Jorry Maxy, was kidnapped.  (Source: http://www.haitiobserver.com/blog/jacmel-reacted-on-jean-marie-patrice-etiennes-slaying-and-jo.htmlhttp://www.haitiobserver.com/blog/jacmel-reacted-on-jean-marie-patrice-etiennes-slaying-and-jo.html)

Sunday and Monday, crowds of people came out into the street demonstrating and demanding (at least) 2 things.  First, they wanted EDH, (the electric company) to provide power until at least 5AM instead of 2AM as it has been for a very long time now.  In Jacmel we have decent city power that usually turns on sometime in the early-mid afternoon and stays on until 2AM.  Now, this is a crucial point.  There has been a ridiculous amount of crime in Jacmel and surrounding areas around 2AM in the past year.  Many home (armed) invasions/robberies, a few shootings, and a couple of kidnappings.  Virtually ALL of these crimes are occurring shortly after the power turns off.  The criminals supposedly do their homework during the day, deciding who to hit, and then wait until the power goes off before invading in the darkness of night when they will have the advantage by carrying large flashlights.  So, the first demand is simple.  The people want the power company to provide power until 5AM to get us through the dark of night.  And it's not like EDH is a philanthropic group generously giving away power.  No, I assure you that's not the truth.  People pay well to have power.  EDH will not lose money by keeping the power on for 3 hours longer each day, because they can then charge people more.

That is a reasonable demand, in my opinion.  And the manifestations on Sunday and Monday (which included thousands of people marching and dozens --if not hundreds-- of roadblocks in and around the city to prevent normal movement from place to place) have been effective.  Tuesday morning, power stayed on until 5AM, so it's hard to say that the protests were unsuccessful.

The second demand (which is also reasonable, in my opinion) is the return of the kidnapped child.  There are many rumors about who is involved in this kidnapping, and let's just get it out there that kidnapping is kind of a hot issue in Haiti right now.  The lid has recently been blown off a huge story in Port Au Prince about gangs being led by the upperclass elite, with cooperation from some corrupt members of the Haitian National Police. (Source: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/19/3105468/haiti-kidnapping-shrouded-in-secrecy.htmlhttp://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/19/3105468/haiti-kidnapping-shrouded-in-secrecy.html)
This kidnapping in Jacmel, while lower profile, has some accusations of police involvement or at least police negligence.  Allegedly, the police were called repeatedly during the break-in and they didn't show up until 5 hours later.   

It's as if this crime was the straw that broke the camel's back.  The people of Jacmel have decided that they are not going to accept crime as a way of life any longer.  Jacmel has LONG been known as a safe city within the instability of Haiti.  Up until a year ago (give or take), we slept with unbarred windows and doors, sometimes even keeping the door open to catch the ocean breeze.  Jacmelians feel a great sense of pride about the safety of the city-- it was like a great retreat from the overcrowding, smog, and crime of the capital city.  My understanding is that people are manifesting (ie. demonstrating) with the goal of creating enough attention/disruption that it becomes impossible for the government to NOT make changes, or at least address the corruption that is making the situation more serious.

Now.  Here's something that might be surprising to some people.  I don't disagree.  I really don't.  Sure, there are inconveniences that have been created by these manifestations.  My kids aren't in school.  That can't go on forever.  We had nasty toilets for a day and a half and LOTS of dirty dishes when we couldn't get a water truck.  Getting around from place to place is a challenge.  And if it persists for a long time, then yeah, it's probably going to become enough of a disturbance that it actually becomes a bit unproductive.  But isn't that the risk with all demonstrations?  How about labor strikes?  Same thing.  People cause riots and violence in more "developed" countries for way stupider reasons (read: sports games and Black Friday sales.)

For the most part, things have remained peaceful during the manifestations.  People aren't bent on hurting one another.  There have been lots of bottles broken in the road and some personal property destroyed as people drag whatever they can into the road to block the flow of traffic, like loto booths or old broken-down vehicles.  (They are actually blocking cars only... Motos can pass.)  And during specific times, there is the threat of violence if people try to disregard the roadblocks (ie-- large stones sitting there waiting to be hurled at you.)  But if you wait it out, once the crowd moves on, you CAN get by.  You might just be sitting for a while waiting it out.  And there are usually back roads that are passable.  However, there are also some opportunists who are not necessarily a part of the main manifestations  who are strategically blocking back roads and demanding cash to cross their homemade roadblocks.  That sort of pisses me off, but whatever.  That kind of thing happens everywhere.

SO FAR, no businesses or government buildings have been damaged.  Like I said, schools and most businesses have been closed (or at the very least, not reliably open.)  Locals are quick to clear paths for vehicles to pass once the (moving) crowd has moved on.  We assume that will last at least the rest of this week.

I have heard that there will be a big manifestation tomorrow morning at 6AM.  Selfishly, I am hoping it passes quickly because it's Thanksgiving, and I am looking forward to celebrating with friends.  But, if that doesn't happen, I will live.  I respect the people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.  We, too, understand the pain and disruption caused by the violence of the last year in Jacmel.  We grieve the loss of our friends and our feeling of security. I am hopeful that this doesn't escalate into something more dangerous.  (It could easily go that way.)  I am also hopeful for the safe return of the child.  Know that we're being wise and laying low/staying off the roads except for situations that absolutely dictate us being on them.

As you guys are getting ready to settle in with your families for Thanksgiving, I pray that you will truly be thankful for the ways that God has provided his protection and security around you during this past year. I was reminded last week that peace is not absence of conflict, it is a fruit of the Spirit that is experienced when the favor of God is turned towards you. And it is not dependent upon our circumstances.  I ask that you'd offer a prayer for the situation in our community, Jacmel.  Please pray for continued safety, for the protection/return of this child, for justice for the perpetrators, and for peace in the hearts and lives of the people in our community.