Haitians protest home demolition plan

Government wants to remove shanties, many housing earthquake refugees, to improve flood protection around the capital.

Haiti protests
Police fired tear gas in an attempt to control the protesters in Port-au-Prince, some of whom threw rocks [AFP]

More than 1,000 Haitians have marched through the capital to protest against a reported plan to destroy their irregular hillside homes for a flood-control project before they can find better, more permanent places to live.

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to control the protesters in Port-au-Prince, some of whom threw rocks.

The demonstrators snaked through the city’s metropolitan area, chanting threats to burn down the relatively affluent district where the shanties sit, if the authorities flatten their homes.

Pierre Andre Gedeon, the deputy chief of the environment ministry, said on a local radio broadcast last week that officials want to demolish several hundred homes to build channels and reforest the hillsides in an effort to curb the deadly floods that come with the annual rainy season.

Officials have made no other public reference to the plan. Calls to the ministry on Monday were not answered.

Many of the threatened homes are in Jalousie, a cinderblock shantytown that spreads across a mountainside alongside the affluent city of Petionville that makes up the Port-au-Prince metro area.

Earthquake damage

The protesters say President Michel Martelly has already fallen short on his promise to build homes destroyed in the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The disaster destroyed tens of thousands of houses in the capital and other cities in the south, and officials said 314,000 people died.

“Martelly didn’t build any houses. How can he destroy our homes?” said 22-year-old Joel Jean-Pierre. “If he comes to destroy our homes, we’re going to burn down Petionville.”

The government is building hundreds of homes north of the capital, but too few 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 Haitian government, foreign aid groups and governments gave displaced people year-long rental subsidies.

Residents of six highly visible camps moved into hillside areas such as Jalouise. Others have moved there because they were evicted by land owners.

Presidential fund

Port-au-Prince, a city of around three million people, 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 crash down the hills every year during the country’s rainy seasons and people often die.

The march on Monday began peacefully but some protesters threw rocks at a towering hotel financed in part by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a non-profit venture set up after the earthquake by former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

The demonstrators were angry to see the opulent hotel under construction amid fears that they will lose their homes.

When the protesters reached central Port-au-Prince, riot police carrying shields tried to break up the crowds by firing tear gas canisters.

Some people threw rocks at the police and also at passing motorists, some of whom had their windows broken.

Reporters from the AP news agency saw one woman injured in the head after being hit with a rock.

Source: AP