PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Oops of excitement echoed through the streets of Port-au-Prince early Saturday as gas stations in Haiti opened for the first time in two months after a powerful mob lifted a crippling fuel blockade.
‘There’s petrol now! There’s gas now!’ people shouted as they honked their horns and motorbikes whizzed by as Haiti’s capital slowly returned to its familiar cacophony.
Sweat rolled down people’s eyebrows as they pushed their cars and motorcycles to the nearest gas station and lined up next to colorful minibuses known as “faucets” adorned with messages like “Thank you Jesus.”
“I would call this the day when life starts again,” says Davidson Jean-Pierre, 35, who owns a small painting business.
He and his associates were finally able to traverse Haiti with ladders and other bulky equipment that couldn’t be easily transported on the handful of motorcycles that had remained in circulation during the blockade.
“My team is getting back on its feet,” said Jean-Pierre.
Since a gang federation known as G9 took control of an area around a major fuel terminal in mid-September, life in Haiti has been paralyzed, leaving millions of people like Jean-Pierre temporarily out of work.
The move — intended to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry after he announced a hike in gas prices — forced gas stations to close, hospitals to cut back on critical services and businesses, including banks and supermarkets, to limit their opening hours. It also exacerbated a cholera outbreak that left dozens dead and thousands sick, with businesses unable to distribute drinking water.
Earlier this week, nearly 400 trucks lined up at the recently liberated Varreux terminal in Port-au-Prince to fill their tanks with fuel as a heavily armed police convoy escorted them to gas stations in the capital and beyond.
The truck drivers arrived after the G9 gang, led by former police officer Jimmy Cherizier — nicknamed “Barbecue” — announced it was lifting the blockade a week ago, days after clashing with police seeking to restore control of the area.
As the truck drivers handed out 1.9 million liters of diesel and 1.2 million liters of petrol, many on Saturday feared that fuel would soon run out as they waited in line for hours under a bright sun.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” said Arnel Fildor, 28, who was also concerned about high gas prices and a crushing economic crisis caused by double-digit inflation in this country of more than 11 million. pushed. to even deeper poverty. “Not everyone is equal. We don’t have the same ability to survive. We’re all slowly dying here.”
During the blockade, a rare gallon of gas went on the black market for a minimum of 4,000 Haitian gourds ($30), a price Jean-Pierre refused to pay, fearing it might have been mixed with other liquids.
On Saturday, he planned to buy gallons of water and fill his propane gas tank, basic errands that were impossible during the blockade.
Meanwhile, tap drivers like Marc André, 40, said that while it was a relief to see gas stations reopen, they were concerned about high fuel prices and its impact on their livelihoods, with passengers unable to pay the full fare.
“They have increased the gas at the wrong time when the economy is not functioning,” he said. “It will be quite difficult for the people who have nothing. The gasoline looks like a savior, but at the same time it will bring hardship for many people.”
In mid-September, the prime minister announced that his government could no longer afford to heavily subsidize fuel. As a result, a gallon of gasoline rose from 250 gourdes ($2) to 570 gourdes ($4.78), diesel from 353 gourdes ($3) to 670 gourdes ($5.60) and kerosene from 352 gourdes ($3) to 665 gourdes ($5.57) in a country where about 60% of the population earns less than $2 a day.
Faucet driver Jean Joël Destin, 39, said the government does not understand what he has to go through to earn a living in Haiti.
“You have no one to turn to,” he said.
The Bharat Express News writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.