‘When the porridge is hot, one eats it on the side': Haiti's current protests, explained on Twitter

Members of the Formed Police Unit of the Nigerian contingent United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) shoot tear gas into the crowd to disperse violent university student protesters downtown.
12/Jun/2009. Port au Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Logan Abassi. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/

What's happening in Haiti? It depends on what you read. If mainstream media is the primary source of your news, you would have learned that the Haitian government, led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK), has officially requested foreign military intervention because of gang activity, widespread demonstrations following a fuel hike, and dwindling access to basic necessities.

Henry and his co-signatories have said they are worried about “the risk of a major humanitarian crisis” in the country, and an “asphyxiation of the national economy,” a concern that has been echoed by the United Nations, the international body whose “peacekeeping” presence in the country nearly 12 years ago was responsible for a cholera epidemic as well as human rights atrocities. UN troops only fully evacuated the Caribbean nation five years ago.

There is no disputing certain realities. Following Henry's September 11 announcement that the government would be putting an end to the fuel subsidy, the cost of gas went up. Terminal Varreux, a key fuel entry point, has been blockaded by gangs which, by controlling the energy supply, gives them power to regulate so much more. Transportation services have ground to a halt, and certain key public services such as health care have been unable to function. Cholera is reportedly seeing a resurgence, and there have been regular demonstrations.

However, the lens through which the Haitian narrative is being seen varies significantly between certain mainstream media coverage and social media. On Twitter, in particular, discussions have been taking on a very different tenor, the overriding context of which is that Haitians have had enough of the foreign occupation that is the root cause of its crises:

While some made the connection between the ongoing unrest and European — and later, Americancolonisation, others were more concerned about the current occupiers:

The Core Group comprises the deputy special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations, the ambassadors of Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, and the US, and representatives of Spain, the Organization of American States and the European Union.

Commenting on the same street protest, two Twitter users shared similar perspectives:

Another said simply:

There is no doubt in Haitians’ minds that the Henry administration is implicitly supported by the United States. One Twitter user even went so far as to call the prime minister a traitor; another, a puppet.

Monique Clesca added:

This is not to say that there is any one simple solution. Twitter user Michael Deibert, who on October 8 posted a thread in which he garnered several Haitian friends’ views regarding the impending deployment of foreign troops to the country — “from relatively well-off bourgeois to people who have had the flee the violence of the baz in the quartiers populaires” — noted that “there are a range of opinions about the possibility.”

Meanwhile, even as the United States authorised its direct-hire personnel and their families to leave Haiti amidst the unrest, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been pledging his country's support for returning “stability” to Haiti, claiming, “International support is crucial to secure a more stable, democratic, and prosperous future for Haiti”:

His efforts are being countered by a few senators and members of Congress who have petitioned President Joe Biden to reconsider his administration's approach:

It was a call that was echoed by several members of the Haitian diaspora, as well as religious and human rights advocates. Notably, Dan Foote, the US special envoy for Haiti, last year resigned over what he called an “inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees” from the US-Mexico border. He maintains that US policy towards Haiti is “deeply flawed”:

Several tweets underscored his perspective:

Economist and policy specialist Jeffsky Poincy added:

JR Gaillot agreed:

Foote went head-to-head with US Secretary of State Blinken, who spoke about human rights in the context of a Russia-related tweet:

In a similar vein, Crystal Haynes wondered why other members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) of which Haiti is a part, have not acted as advocates on its behalf:

In a LinkedIn article that Johnny Celestin shared on Twitter, he suggested, “First, Haitians must acknowledge that Haiti’s problems are for Haitians to solve.” He also noted that the Core Group has “no credibility” in Haiti. A better option, he thought, would to be work more closely with CARICOM, “especially with Jamaica, [which has] a long history of dealing with gangs in their own country”:

To answer the question of what to do, one should consider the Haitian proverb that says ‘Lè labouyi cho, ou manje-l a rebò.’ When the porridge is hot, one eats it on the side [meaning] when faced with a complex problem, the best approach is to break it down into smaller pieces. In Haiti's complex puzzle, the smallest piece is to […] resolve the insecurity crisis and lay the foundation for a more fair society. […]

The first phase is to mobilize the country’s human and financial human resources. The second is to strengthen the public finances and other key institutions such as the judicial branch and the electoral council. The third is to consolidate its gains to move toward a national dialogue and elections.

As Haiti braces itself for more potential violence, it continues to grapple with the fact that the power of self-determination, which is what every country wants, is what its own society has been repeatedly denied.

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