Haiti’s violent week

By Tim Mansel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Uprooted trees lay across the highway, dumpsters stood abandoned in the road, some with their contents still smoldering.

Evidence of rage was strewn across the city: a burned-out car lay at a hotel entrance, and the road that winds down into the city from the suburb of Petionville was on occasion barely passable. And everywhere were boulders and rubble.

Life appeared to be slowly returning to normal Thursday, after days of violent protests. Supporters of presidential candidate and musician Michel Martelly set fires to his opponent’s headquarters Wednesday, after the election council announced that Martelly finished third in the Nov. 28 election, behind former first lady Mirlande Manigat and government technocrat Jude Celestin.

Haiti’s electoral authorities announced Thursday they would review the results in an effort the defuse the protests. At least four people died in the week’s unrest.

The announcement of the election results had come late on Tuesday evening and the sound of sporadic gunfire filled the air through the night. As the sun came up a pall of black smoke obscured the view of the port below, and the chants of demonstrators rose on the breeze. The streets below were devoid of traffic, which brought its own problems to a city in the initial stages of a cholera epidemic.

With hundreds of thousands of people still living in camps after the January earthquake, many citizens of Port-au-Prince depend on the fresh chlorinated water that is trucked into their camps on an almost daily basis. If traffic can’t move, water can’t be delivered, and hospital staff can’t get to work.

A spokeswoman at the American relief organization Samaritan’s Purse said the organization was working with a skeletal crew. She said one member of the hospital staff had hitched a ride to work on the back of a motorbike. A group of men stopped the bike, beat the driver, and threatened to do the same to the nurse, stopping only when they saw her uniform.

Cholera patients also need a functioning public transport system. This is a disease that is easily treated, but it can kill within hours of the first symptoms. Aid workers say people are now waiting much longer before seeking medical help because they fear being on the streets.

As Thursday morning wore on, the tension grew. We drove around the city to survey the situation. Our fuel was running low and no gas stations were open. Martelly supporters thrust posters through the car window. By then our increasingly nervous driver wanted to turn back as he’d spotted a large group of youths moving down a side street at an ominous jog trot.

And then our translator took a call from his girlfriend. Armed men were firing shots outside their home — a small shanty among the thousands that now fill the public space outside the Presidential Palace, itself lopsided and leaning precariously as a result of the earthquake. Time to head back.

As darkness fell the occasional gunshot rang out once more.

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