A sudden outbreak of violence in Haiti over the past week has stranded many in the country, including church groups there on mission trips. One pastor from North Carolina, Rev. Brad Lynch, said, "We just never saw this coming. It just completely blew up out of nowhere."
Haitians have been protesting the government's planned reduction of fuel subsidies and, thus, the higher fuel prices which would result. Gas rices were to rise 38 percent, diesel 47 percent, and kerosene 51 percent; however, the government on Saturday agreed to temporarily halt the increases due to the protests.
Haiti, like many of the less wealthy nations of the world, subsidizes fuel prices for its citizens to artificially lower the prices they pay. Even with the subsidies, however, Haiti's current gas prices are around $3 a gallon, before the price increase. That's high even in the U.S., with its higher standard of living, although not as high as in most Western European countries.
However, the reduction of subsidies is a requirement of loans and assistance given to Haiti by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in an effort to get Haiti's financial health back on track. Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant is trying to implement the economic reforms required by the IMF, but is meeting with opposition from other politicians as well as the people themselves. His career may not survive a no-confidence vote if the matter is taken up in the Haitian parliament.
Certainly, the riots and destruction of property do not bode well for the country. The economy is already shaky: 14% inflation, 13% unemployment, a low GDP per capita, and a tourism industry which is skittish of unrest. Recovering will take real political leadership and a willingness of the people to forego short-term advantages (such as low gas prices) in favor of longer-term development.