PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday June 27, 2012 — Over 1,000 angry Haitians marched through the capital on Monday protesting a reported plan to demolish their hillside shanties for a flood-control project before they found alternative accommodation.
Police fired tear gas to control the demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks and chanted threats to burn down the relatively affluent district if authorities destroyed their homes.
A top official at the environment ministry, Pierre Andre Gedeon, had stated on local radio last week that authorities wanted to demolish several hundred homes to build channels and reforest the hillsides in an effort to curb flooding in the annual rainy season. Up to the start of the protest, officials had made no other public reference to the plan.
Many of the threatened homes are in Jalousie, a sprawling shantytown that extends across the mountainside near the relatively affluent city of Petionville that makes up the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.
The demonstrators said President Michel Martelly fell short on his promise to build homes to replace those destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The disaster levelled tens of thousands of houses in the capital and other cities in the south.
“Martelly didn’t build any houses. How can he destroy our homes? If he comes to destroy our homes we’re going to burn down Petionville,” said one of the irate protesters.
Monday’s march began peacefully but some protesters threw rocks at a hotel part-financed by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a non-profit organization set up after the earthquake by former United States Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The demonstrators were incensed at the sight of the opulent building under construction amid fears that they would become homeless.
When demonstrators reached downtown Port-au-Prince, riot police tried to bring the crowd under control by firing tear gas. Some protesters threw rocks at the police and also at passing motorists, some of whom had their windows broken. A number of persons were reportedly injured before the demonstrators dispersed.
The government is building hundreds of homes north of the capital, but they are insufficient to house the more than 400,000 people still living in the precarious settlements that emerged in the aftermath of the quake.
In an effort to move people out of the camps, the government, foreign aid groups and governments gave yearlong rental subsidies, and residents of six camps moved into hillside shanty areas such as Jalouise. Others moved there because they were evicted by land owners.
Port-au-Prince, a city of some 3 million, has seen concrete houses and hovels sprawl across its hills because governments past and present have failed to provide affordable housing. Many of those homes are swept down the hills annually during the country’s rainy season.