PORT-AU-PRINCE – La Saline, one of Port-au-Prince’s most dangerous neighborhoods, epitomizes the poverty that afflicts more than half of Haiti’s 10 million inhabitants and has led thousands of young protesters to demand President Jovenel Moise’s resignation.
Around 30,000 people live in overcrowded and extremely insecure conditions in that district, where violence perpetrated by heavily armed gangs forced many families to flee last November.
At least 59 people were killed on Nov. 13 in La Saline in what the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) has called a “state-sanctioned massacre.”
That non-governmental organization has identified 45 of the dead and blames the deaths on armed gangs operating with the purported backing of members of the National Police.
EFE spoke with several young people on the streets of La Saline and repeatedly heard complaints about a lack of employment and government assistance and the assessment that an already impoverished country has been destroyed.
Most of these young people say that they will take part in a demonstration Friday that has been organized by the Democratic and Popular Sector, a coalition that encompasses several opposition leaders and social sectors and which blames Moise for Haiti’s severe economic crisis and demands his resignation.
Haiti’s dire problems include an inflation rate that hit 15.1 percent in December, the steep depreciation of the gourde and an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent.
Political and social tensions also remain high following weeks of violent protests that have left at least nine dead. Moise, who also faces corruption allegations, has refused to cede power.
Young people constituted the vast majority of those taking part in the recent anti-government demonstrations in Haiti, a country in which 70 percent of the population is estimated to be younger than 35.
Anger at the government is especially palpable in La Saline, where residents say their homes lack electricity and running water and there are no schools or medical facilities in their communities.
Reginal, a 31-year-old construction worker who says he has been unable to find work for months, told EFE that a change in government would improve the situation and called on Moise to step down.
But other Haitians expressed apprehension about taking part in Friday’s demonstration.
Barane, a bus fare collector, said that he didn’t think he would attend the protest despite his anger at the government because he does not want to “have problems.”
Kikine Basquin, a 24-year-old mother, spoke to EFE at her humble, dirt-floored residence while several children played on nearby unpaved streets that turn to mud whenever it rains.
She said she makes just 35 gourdes (43 cents) a day selling water and barely has money to feed her son.
EFE also observed two armed young men walking past a police station in La Saline, a district that is regularly beset by clashes among gangs and between criminals and the National Police. According to local residents, the station is manned by a single officer.
Just a few kilometers from La Saline, around 300 people who fled their homes after the Nov. 13 massacre have taken refuge at a makeshift camp across from the Legislative Palace.
Outside one of the tents, Dominican Emelson Herrera, who has lived in Haiti for 31 years and says he typically works as a tourist guide, said the people at the camp live off of handouts because none of them have jobs.
Political instability in Haiti also has dealt a severe blow to a tourist sector that had been counted on as a key source of employment and revenue.
At a craft market on the Pan-American Highway, near the luxury Hotel Montana on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts, vendors say their sales have dried up since the protests erupted due to a lack of tourists.
The country’s crisis has led many young adults to seek a better future abroad, with nearly 300,000 Haitians having emigrated to Chile over the past three years.