United Methodists Report That Aid Efforts for Haiti Have Been Stymied by Political Unrest

Protesters throw garbage at the entrance of the Immigration and Emigration Direction nel Moise, in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares.

Roadblocks, massive daily protests against the government, gun-toting gangs and shortages of food and water are facts of life these days in Haiti.

For now, United Methodists with longtime ties to the embattled nation say it is tough to intervene with any effectiveness.

“The mood of the Haitian people right now is sadness and disappointment,” said Brulan Jean-Michel, manager of the Methodist Guest House in Pétion-Ville, near the capital and largest city of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. “Adults and kids are depressed. The businesses are closed. Schools are closed. The roads are blocked.”

United Methodists made investments of up to $49 million in Haiti over the past decade as they helped Haitians work their way back from a 2010 earthquake, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and a long-lasting cholera epidemic, said the Rev. Tom Vencuss, coordinator of mission ministry for the New York Conference. Vencuss and his wife have been involved in missions to Haiti since 2002.

“With things like a (U.S.) State Department Level 4 travel advisory, our group alone canceled five teams that were scheduled to go down (to Haiti),” Vencuss said.

“And right now, the Methodist Guest House in Pétion-Ville, which is the primary location for United Methodist volunteer teams coming in, has shut down through the end of the year because the teams have canceled all (mission trips) through December.”

A Level 4 travel advisory from the state department means that the U.S. recommends that its citizens avoid traveling there. More recently, that advisory has been lowered to Level 3, which suggests reconsidering travel to Haiti due to crime, civil unrest and kidnappings.

The most recent trouble started in July 2018, when the government, headed by President Jovenel Moïse, attempted to raise the price of fuel because of low supply, low cash reserves and a fuel debt north of $100 million.

“They tried to impeach the president and did not do that successfully,” said Jim Gulley, a retired United Methodist missionary and consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Gulley was trapped in debris when the 2010 earthquake occurred and two of his United Methodist colleagues, the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb, died from their injuries.

“That (impeachment) process created a lot of hostility among the population. Now the president is really under siege, so the country is having a tough time functioning at any level,” Gulley told UM News.

Fuel and food shortages are constant in Haiti at the moment, as are large and sometimes violent demonstrations in the streets. About 200 people have died because of clashes between demonstrators and police, according to media reports. Vencuss said it now takes more than twice as many goud, the basic currency in Haiti, to be worth one U.S. dollar. The rate is 90 goud per U.S. dollar, up from 40 goud per dollar.

After the earthquake, tent cities of dispossessed Haitians sprung up in Port-au-Prince and later moved north of the city.

Armed gangs have emerged out of the tent cities, Jean-Michel said.

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Source: United Methodist News