Unrest in Haiti

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 26th of February, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: unrest in Haiti.

Violent protests have rocked Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince since February 7th. That was the second anniversary of President Jovenel Moise’s election. Haitians are angry over the rising cost of basic goods and perceive government corruption. They want Moise to resign. So far he’s refused, instead promising reforms that have done little to quell the unrest.

BASHAM: Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. About 60 percent of Haitians live on just $2 a day. But a sack of rice now costs $18. A can of dry beans costs $7. This in a country where people were already struggling to survive. About half the people are malnourished, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

REICHARD: Just last week, the U.S. State Department cautioned Americans to avoid Haiti until the violence simmers down.

Joining us now to talk about the situation is Dr. David Vanderpool. He’s a trauma surgeon who started a medical mission organization in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Dr. Vanderpool and his wife moved there full time in 2013.

Good morning, Dr. Vanderpool. Thank you for joining us.

VANDERPOOL: Thank you for having me.

REICHARD: I understand you’ve been back in the U-S for a week or so. What can you tell us about what’s going on back home in Haiti right now?

VANDERPOOL: Well, you know, in Haiti we’ve got some protractive protests going on. They’re called manifestations in the French language. And in the past, the man-on-the-street type demonstrations would consist of a few burning tires and maybe a tree branch to block the road. And basically it was just the way that the people could communicate with the government. 

However, this seems to be going on for quite a bit longer, really started back in July when the Prime Minister received a vote of no confidence. And then also it seems to be better organized and better funded than the man-on-the-street demonstrations that we’re accustomed to. So we’re a little concerned that this might be a regime change, a coup attempt, so to speak, to oust the elected president in power.

REICHARD: We’ve already mentioned the economic problems that are fueling these protests. But can you give us a sense of what it’s like right now for the average Haitian? How difficult is day-to-day living?

VANDERPOOL: Well, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult. The Haitian currency has dropped tremendously against the dollar over the last couple of years, specifically more in the last year. And so their buying power is greatly reduced. And we’re starting to see suffering because people can’t buy basic commodities, such as milk and bread and food stuff as well as diesel and gasoline being very scarce. So we’re starting to see the people really get into a bad situation.

REICHARD: And I understand these protests are in some cases making things worse. What are you hearing about shortages of medicine and medical services?

VANDERPOOL: Well, they’re in a real dire situation. We actually have a feeding program where we feed malnourished children and women in and we have not been able to get our food container out of port for quite some time because of the demonstrations. And so even our operations are becoming a bit tenuous because of the demonstrations.

REICHARD: Spring break is coming up and I would guess that’s probably a time when U-S mission teams travel to Haiti for short-term trips. What effect are these protests having on those plans? Has your organization had to cancel any trips at this point?

VANDERPOOL: Well, yes. We cancelled four trips last year and it looks like we’re going to be cancelling trips this year as well. It’s just not safe and prudent for Americans to come into Haiti at this time, especially on mission teams. And this is really a bad circumstance because these mission teams bring in a lot of money for the industries and for the government here in Haiti. We spend about $2 million a year in the local economy and a lot of that comes from mission teams coming in. And so this is a piece of the economy that Haiti is very dependent upon and so these demonstrations are going to further worsen the economy.

REICHARD: What do you say to those who point to the dysfunctional way of Haiti’s culture and the historical problems that country’s had? Hopeless? Useful, for Americans to get involved? What do you say?

VANDERPOOL: Well, I think it calls for even a greater involvement. I don’t think any situation is hopeless and certainly Haiti has had a very poor track record in the past since their independence in 1804, but that doesn’t mean that the future would be equally bleak. And I think with proper governance, which may need to come from — there may need to be some training that comes from outside sources — I think that Haiti can be restored to a functional country. It’s very difficult for the average American to get their head around what things are actually like and the plight of the people. And the people who are just trying to survive are the ones that get punished by these demonstrations. And they don’t deserve to have this. And so I think it’s incumbent upon us as Americans to be a source of stability for the country so that the poorest of the poor don’t get further behind.

REICHARD: Dr. David Vanderpool is a missionary doctor working and living in Thomazeau, Haiti. Thank you for joining us today.

VANDERPOOL: Thank you very much for having me.

(AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery) Protesters stand next to the fence of the national TV station where a car was set fire by protesters as they demand the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. 

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