I was sitting at the rockpools on Wednesday morning when I got a message on the Bethesda staff whatsapp group which said 'Now the problems are worse, they have assassinated President Jovenel Moise.' My initial thought was that its probably wasn't true. There are always rumours and deception going on in Haiti so I don't always believe everything I read but just a few minutes later an official report came through and then I checked the BBC news and there is was on the breaking news. The next message was 'take a lot of caution before you go out today.'
I had no idea what to think, no idea what this meant for Haiti, no idea what this meant for us.
Right away the borders were closed and the prime minister declared a state of siege for two weeks. This means that Haiti is under martial law.
As the day went on people were sending me the news and I talked to a few friends in Haiti, all hurting, all grieving and all SCARED. Scared of what this means and what will happen next.
Thankfully things have been quiet especially around Cap Haitian, many people are staying home and waiting. Just watching and waiting for what will happen. Obviously the situation has the potential to turn very volatile.
If you want to stay up to date with what has been happening what we have been reading on the news is pretty much what we are also hearing from Haiti. But I do want to try and answer some questions people have asked me.
How are things in Haiti?
This is a massive question which we get asked often and its difficult to answer but I will try my best from what I know. Things are calm and quiet. Everyone is appalled at the murder of their president and they want justice. So far the Haitian police force have worked hard and out of the 28 people they believe to be involved twenty of them have been arrested, three are dead, which leaves five on the run.
Who is in charge now?
According to the Haitian constitution the supreme court president should take power if the president dies, unfortunately the supreme court president died of COVID 19 just a few weeks ago. The prime minister has stepped up and taken power but the difficulty is that President Jovenel had chosen a new prime minister just days before he died who was due to be ratified in parliament on the day he died. As you can see it's complicated. As far as I understand now the original prime minister is leading the country, however this could change.
What will happen now?
No one really knows. President Jovenel's term was due to finish and a new President was to be sworn in on February 2022 so this is an election year. In September there was also supposed to be a referendum on the constitution. It is unclear what will happen with either of those things.
Was he a good president?
There is a lot of information which travels through Haiti very quickly particularly on whatsapp and it is extremely difficult to know what is truth and what is not. So as a disclaimer I cannot tell you what is truth and what is not. I can just share my perception living there and getting information from friends, both Haitian and missionaries.
In order to understand if he was good I need to share a little more of the history. President Jovenel was elected in 2016 and took office in February 2017 and many people in Haiti thought he would finally bring change. He worked hard on building roads, providing irrigation and electricity. But right from the election the opposition did not want him elected, in fact the election was done 3 times. He won every time.
In summer 2018 protests started against him and his party saying they were involved in stealing money from aid which came from Venezuela. This was the beginning of more than 2 years of political unrest which has destabilized the country, played havoc with the exchange rate, made everything more and more expensive, and life much much more difficult for the average Haitian...and of course making President Jovenel look like a terrible president.
Most of the protests were called for by the opposition claiming they would not stop until the president chose to step down. These protests were called 'peyi lok', Shut the country down. And the methods they used were extreme. Schools were closed for weeks at a time, in fact from September - December 2019 children across Haiti were not able to go to school. Threats were being forwarded around on whatsapp making parents very fearful of even attempting to send their children to school. Fuel in gas stations was rare but could be bought on the black market for an extortionate price, road blocks were frequent and just a mile down the road from us they actually cut a hole in the road so no trucks or vehicles could get past - especially not fuel trucks. We didn't leave Emmaus for days sometimes weeks at a time. Life was getting more and more difficult for the people of Haiti and many people were blaming the president and of course he did not step down because as he said he was fairy elected and he believed in democracy.
But the whole time Jovenel was claiming he was trying to root out government corruption and it looks like that is exactly what he was trying to do. It is no secret that a very small percentage of people own most of Haiti's wealth, meanwhile 60% of Haitians live below the poverty line. It makes sense that he was making some very rich and powerful people very angry by not letting them do what they have always done.
So I think yes he was good, he tried to do the right thing and improve the lives of the people of Haiti and he lost his life over it when he was murdered in his own home. I just pray that his death was not in vain and maybe finally this will be a turning point in Haiti's history.
Are you still going back?
Short answer yes. The airports were closed for a couple of days after the assassination but have now reopened. Things are quiet, particularly in the North so we are still moving forward with leaving at the end of this month. We will keep in close contact with people we trust in Haiti to see how the situation develops and as long as we are still able to do our jobs we will be returning to Haiti.
Are you scared?
It is easy to allow yourself to be scared. To create scenarios in your mind of what might happen. It is true Haiti is not the same place it was when we moved there in 2016 and because of that there are certain things which we don't do. We don't go out in the dark anywhere, never really have, actually, not just because of safety but it is terrifying to drive with no street lights on the same road as cars and motorbikes who often have no head lights. I don't go into Cap Haitian or the market alone. We probably won't drive to the airport alone. Let me put your mind at ease a little (mum), our campus where we live has 24 hour security. Emmaus has a great relationship with the people in the village we live in. We know lots of people who live there. The boys school also has 24 hour security. The shop at the petrol station on the way home which I stop at sometimes has an armed security guard (its funny what you get used to - we don't even notice anymore!!). If people tell us not to leave the house we don't. During other periods of unrest I waited until Junel, who works at Emmaus and travels from Vaudrieul (where the clinic is), arrived and let me know if the road was ok, then I would go. A lot of what you will hear from Haiti will be in Port au Prince (100 miles from us) and it is a lot more dangerous than the rest of the country.
For those of you in Northern Ireland you will understand when I say you have to think of it like the Troubles when there were certain places you wouldn't go at certain times. The Troubles affected many different people in different ways and some of it depended on where you lived or what your job was. I have memories of being in a bomb scare and of my mum getting her handbag searched before we went into a shop.
Are the boys going with you?
A personal favourite of mine which I think you know the answer to.
I am more than happy to answer any other questions if you have them.
Yesterday I sent out our monthly prayer update and I want to finish by sharing the prayer requests with you.
Please pray for peace and stability. The situation obviously has the potential to turn very volatile. So far things in the North of Haiti are quiet, many people are too scared to leave their homes. Bethesda has remained open for those who do need medical care.
Pray for a smooth transition of power. The process is not simple. The government has not been functioning well for quite a while and the judge who should have taken power died from COVID 19 just a few weeks ago. The prime minister has taken control, however, President Jovenel had appointed a new prime minister just a couple of days before he died but he had not been ratified yet.
Pray that this will be a turning point in Haiti's history and that finally government corruption will end.
Pray for those who planned, financed and carried out the murder that they will be brought to justice. Haitian authorities have already arrested 20 people.
Pray for the Haitian police force as they try to catch those involved. The PM has requested support from the United States and it is reported that some FBI personnel will arrive in Haiti to help with the investigation. I believe they arrived today (Sunday).
Pray for the Haitian people at this extremely difficult time. Everyone we have spoken to is scared of what may happen next.
Pray for us as we pack and plan to leave at the end of the month.
John 1 v 5
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Isaiah 43 v 2
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.