PETIONVILLE / PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - A calm has returned to much of Haiti after several days of protests over a proposed increase in fuel prices.
Merchants on Rue Rigaud, a prominent street in Petionville, a suburb of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, were back to normal Tuesday, selling mangoes, avocados and other produce.
Three men sat on a street corner discussing the anti-government protests that resulted in at least three deaths, and several Haitian-Syrian-owned businesses looted and cars burned.
Haitians are seen gathered on a street corner in Petionville. (S. Lemaire/VOA)
Life had come to an anxiety-ridden standstill over the weekend for Haitians and tourists alike as angry protesters retaliated against a government decision on Friday to raise various fuel prices by as much as 51 percent. Officials had rescinded the decision by Saturday, but the violence continued through the weekend.
'Eagle Market [owned by wealthy Israeli-Haitian Anthem Farah] looted. Businesses on Delmas [a commune in the Port-au-Prince administrative district] that were never previously targeted were attacked,' a protester in his 20s told VOA Creole as he sought to explain what motivated the violence. 'Our president [Jovenel Moise], we're sending you a message. Are you listening? We're telling you first and foremost that after rescinding the gas hike, you have even more important things to do, such as addressing the high price of food.'
Normality slowly returning
Traffic was still lighter than usual Tuesday, but cars, SUVs, motorcycles and tap taps (colorful buses that transport Haitians around the city) were seen on the streets. Gas stations that survived the protests unscathed were open for business.
Haitians seemed to be breathing a cautious sigh of relief.
People wait for their flights at the departure lounge at the Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince. (S. Lemaire/VOA)
In Port-au-Prince, the Toussaint Louverture airport was open for business. Out front, a guard was directing traffic, as travelers were dropped off at the entrance. Inside, ticket counters were crowded with people leaving for destinations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Cuba.
'Things were tough on Sunday,' a Delta Air Lines employee told VOA. 'But today [Tuesday], things are pretty much back to normal.'
Once past the security screening, the scene became more chaotic, as travelers occupied every inch of the departure lounge, some sitting on the floor to await their flights. Lined up near a staircase were senior citizens in wheelchairs wearing Christian missionary T-shirts.
A few steps away, a group of American Christian missionaries from Northwest Chapel Church in Dublin, Ohio, were buying food and drinks before boarding a Delta flight to Atlanta, Georgia. They were a group of 15 who had been volunteering at Destiny Village, an orphanage in Pierre Payen, a rural beach town located near St. Marc in Haiti's western Artibonite region.
Pastor Martin Guerrena's tie-dyed T-shirt made by orphans at Destiny Village. (S. Lemaire/VOA)
They said the protests had upended their plans to volunteer at another mission north of Port-au-Prince. They made the best of the situation by spending more time at Destiny Village, playing with the children and getting to know them better.
'It caused us to help out more and spend more time with the kids there and, like, grow in relationships,' said teen volunteer Emily. She said she hadn't been scared and had felt protected by her Haitian hosts.
Pastor says he would return
Northwest Chapel Church Pastor Martin Guerena, who accompanied the teens, said the violence would not deter him from returning to Haiti.
'We had good interpreters who have been living there all their lives, and they helped us understand that this happens with some degree of frequency. There are always protests happening now and then, and so we weren't really scared. We were in a safe place - and they got us to the airport,' he said.
Across the room, two clean-shaven young Cuban men in T-shirts and acid-washed jeans looked concerned. They said they were professionals who had come to spend the weekend and had looked forward to going to the beach.
'We got here Friday,' one of the men, who wished to remain anonymous, told VOA in Spanish. 'I will not come back.' He explained that he'd spent $450 for the plane ticket. The trip soured when protests erupted a few hours after his arrival, forcing him to shelter in place.
'We couldn't do or see anything,' he said, adding that he was disappointed. The men were heading back to Camaguey, Cuba, on Haiti's Sunrise Airways.
At the last security check before the Delta departure gate, Haitian-American Angela, who lives in Atlanta, was deeply disappointed about not making it to Anse à Pitres, a rural town in Belle-Anse in Haiti's southeast. She had arrived Friday, intending to volunteer in a charity project.
'This is my first time back,' she said. 'I ended up stuck in Carrefour,' which is west of Port-au-Prince.
She told VOA she had wanted to give back to her native country and post photos of her volunteer efforts on social media that would depict the country in a positive light. She did not know whether she would return.