Haiti is under a state of emergency, which authorities say will give them greater freedom to combat violence, looting and general lawlessness. Despite security risks, many Haitians are trying, as best they can, to go about their normal routine. Some merchants are reopening their shops, while others are surveying damage to their businesses and wondering what to do next. For three days following Sunday’s departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Port-au-Prince’s streets were virtually deserted. Little by little, that is changing.
Now, cars line up for blocks at the few gasoline stations not destroyed by vandals and looters.
At one public market, vendors have returned to their shops to find everything not bolted to the floor gone. There is dismay, sorrow, and anger.
“I lost everything. Everything!” a vendor says, “I do not even have a gallon of oil left to cook food for my children.”
The pain is especially acute for merchants who bought their goods on credit.
A shoe saleswoman says, “We have to pay interest everyday. If we have nothing to sell, we cannot pay it. I do not know what I am going to do. The international community has to help us, because we are poor.” U.S. Marines have begun limited security patrols in Port-au-Prince, as foreign troop presence in the country grows.
A produce seller says the U.S. troops are a welcome sight.
“We knew that if things fell apart [in Haiti], the Marines would come,” he says. “Poor people like us do not have visas to go live elsewhere. This is the country we have to live in. I want the Marines to bring peace, to stop the thieves and disarm the gangs.”
Others are happy to see foreign troops for economic reasons. In recent days, hundreds of young males have crowded around a side entrance to the national airport where U.S. Marines set up a base of operations.
A 22-year-old says he will do any job the Marines give him.
“I need work in this country. I have no food,” he says. “I am a young man. I want to do something productive. I have kids and a wife, but no work.”
For many businesses, even those untouched by looters, the customer flow is slow. A woman who runs a dry cleaners says her doors are open, but her machines are idle.
“We opened, but no customers have come. The people are nervous,” she says. “Whenever they see a police car, they assume there must be trouble and they run away. Sometimes people come into the shop just looking for a place to hide.”
— Michael Bowman – Voice of America in Port-au-Prince. Haiti — Reprinted with the permission of Voice of America