Mass protests in Haiti are condemning rising fuel prices and demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ariel Henry. For nearly two months, street protests likened to a civil war have rocked the island nation’s capital Port-au-Prince after the government announced it would raise heavily subsidized fuel prices. We speak to Haitian activist Vélina Élysée Charlier about rising gang violence and how criminal groups are supported by the government. “There is a mafia that is ruling this country, and that mafia doesn’t want to face justice,” says Charlier.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Mass protests in Haiti have entered their third month to demand the resignation of the U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ariel Henry and to condemn rising fuel prices. Police fired tear gas Monday at thousands of protesters marching in the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince.
PROTESTER: [translated] The conditions are unemployment, hunger, misery and corruption, are blatant in our society. If the prime minister solves insecurity and hunger, if he manages to solve the gang problems in the country, if he can manage the crisis, there will be no problem with restarting classes. If he has no answer to these questions, he must leave power and hand it to the right person.
AMY GOODMAN: One of Haiti’s most powerful gangs has blockaded a key fuel depot since September 12th. Many gas stations are closed. The gas shortage has shut down public transit, closed some hospitals.
This comes as Haitian authorities have announced eight people have died from cholera — the first cholera deaths in Haiti in three years. A cholera outbreak a decade ago killed over 10,000 people in Haiti.
For more, we go to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to speak with Vélina Élysée Charlier, a Haitian activist and a member of the Nou Pap Dòmi collective. It means “we are watching” or “we never sleep.”
Vélina, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening on the ground? You have described it as a civil war.
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to be talking about what’s happening in Haiti.
At the moment, yes, just like I said, it’s very similar to a war situation in Haiti. The country, Port-au-Prince, the capital, many other major cities and even small villages are on complete lockdown. The [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: We are seeing if we — whoops! We’re going to try to get her back. We’re talking to Vélina Élysée Charlier. The situation in Haiti is an absolute crisis. Vélina, continue with what you were saying.
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Yes. And one of the reasons why I’m breaking off is because of that. We are in fuel shortage for the past three weeks, and even longer than that. It’s been three years since fuel has been challenging in Haiti. Every three months, you go into a shortage. But that shortage is one of the worst that we have seen. It’s close to a month now where access to fuel is almost impossible. It gets to the point that companies — at least one major company that produces and distributes and sells clean water had to stop their operations. Cellphone companies have announced that they no longer can bring fuel to their cell sites, hence the poor internet connection. We have the cholera outbreak, so areas who already had no to zero or to very [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, if you could ask the next question? I think Vélina can hear you, and then we’ll only go to audio. I think she’s back.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Vélina, I wanted to ask you —
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Yes, I’m back. I can hear.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve said that Haiti has become a gangster state. Could you elaborate on that? These gangs that have developed, and especially in recent years, do they reflect internal battles among the elite of Haiti, or what is the source and the funding of these gangs?
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Haiti became a gangster state, an unlivable place, like I said. The gangs that we are seeing, they are very close to the power. The government uses the gangs to control the population, to terrorize the population and try to kill any will that the population would have to protest against what’s happening. They also use the gangs so that they can change the narrative. For example, they are asking [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: You know, as we fix the audio with Vélina, it’s just too important to let her go at this point. Let’s go to another protester in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
PROTESTER: [translated] I am on the streets for four reasons. First, we are here because of the misery, because of the hunger we endure. Second, Ariel Henry has no dignity. He cannot rule the country. Third, we are in charge of the streets. It is up to us to decide when classes can begin again. Ariel does not have the dignity to open the schools. We will open the schools, and Ariel must leave.
AMY GOODMAN: That is a protester in the streets. Vélina, if you could continue with what you were saying and also talk about the prime minister, U.S.-backed prime minister, who was implicated, I believe, in the assassination of the previous prime minister, Jovenel Moïse, what, just over a year ago?
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Yeah. I’m continuing by saying that the gangs that we are seeing, there is the G9 gang coalition. It was made possible with the help of one of the government authority who was [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: Vélina, if you could start again? Again, we’ve lost you. We’ll give this one more try. It’s really difficult. Start again with what you’re saying.
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Yeah. So, there is the gang coalition. And the gangs are used by the power so that they can control the people. It’s really their way of governance. It is similar to what we would call state terrorism. This is what we are going through in Haiti.
And still the United States of America gives full support to Prime Minister Ariel Henry. None of the ministers have resigned. And none of the international community, including the U.S., have said that they will stop working with Ariel Henry. They continue business as usual, as if everything was perfect in Haiti. And we believe if there wasn’t the United States’ hand on the scale giving support to Ariel Henry, we in the civil society would have been able to continue with the dialogue and implement that Haitian-led solution that we have been asking [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: Looks like we get you 30 seconds at a time. Juan, next question?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Vélina, I wanted to ask you about the role of the United Nations. And there was this whole issue of thousands of tons of food that was reportedly lost, following repeated attacks on warehouses of the U.N. food program?
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Well, you know, in Haiti, we do not have — the population does not have a good relationship with the U.N. When you say “U.N.” in Haiti, the first thing that comes to mind is the cholera, the cholera outbreak, close to 10,000 people who died — even more than that maybe — from the cholera, and all of the battle that has followed that. First it was a battle for them to be recognized that they were the ones who brought cholera in Haiti. And then we had to fight for the mere excuse. And up to today we haven’t seen any trial, any process and any justice brought to the victims of the cholera. And additional to that, the U.N. also has a reputation of raping women and girls and raping [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: Vélina was just talking about the cholera outbreak that last — several years ago, after Maria, was brought in by the U.N. peacekeepers, sadly, and 10,000 Haitians died. Your final point, Vélina, as we lose you every couple seconds?
VÉLINA ÉLYSÉE CHARLIER: Well, my final point is that one. Haiti is about to be cut off from the world if nothing is done. We are in a war-like situation. Haitians are dying. And it’s very urgent that the world knows that Haitians are dying, and it’s state terrorism that we’re seeing in Haiti. There is a mafia that is ruling this country, and that mafia doesn’t want to face justice. It’s complete impunity. And they’d rather kill us instead of letting us know — letting the world know that it is a mafia running this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Vélina Élysée Charlier, we want to thank you for being with us, Haitian activist, member of the Nou Pap Dòmi collective — “we never sleep,” “we’re always watching” — speaking to us from Port-au-Prince. We hope to get her on in the coming weeks on a less troubled line in these troubled times.
Next up, back in the U.S., the seditious conspiracy trial for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four others. We’ll get an update. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by the pioneering country music star Loretta Lynn. She died Tuesday at the age of 90 at her home in Tennessee. Yes, she was a coal miner’s daughter. Her father died of black lung.