Wed, 19 Sep 2018

LEOGANE, HAITI - Trash, makeshift roadblocks made of trees, rocks, broken glass and burning tires remained on the nearly empty streets of Haitian cities Sunday - a sobering reminder of the violent protests that left at least three people dead in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

People run after cars were set on fire near a Best Western hotel during protests over a fuel price increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2018.

While some heeded President Jovenel Moïse's appeal for calm and a return to the rule of law, others ignored him completely and continued to terrorize their fellow citizens.

The unrest was linked to protests over a proposed rise in fuel prices.

A group of tourists attempting to make it to Port-au-Prince from Marigot, in Haiti's south, encountered an obstacle course of makeshift roadblocks including a metal guard rail ripped from the roadside and laid across the road, smoldering tires, and a disabled station wagon placed in the middle of the road.

Before heading out toward Port-au-Prince, prayers were said, fingers were crossed, and calls were made to relatives and friends in the suburb of Petionville to ask how the situation was. As the tour bus transporting the 16 Haitian-Americans cleared towns and barricades that remained in the streets, there were sighs of relief and anxiety over whether they would make it to their destination safely. The situation became extremely tense and perilous when the bus reached the town of Gressiers, where cars were suddenly stopped on the dusty highway.

View from inside tour bus.

"No one is getting through! Turn the bus around!" a man shouted to the bus driver. Gesner, the tour guide left the bus and went to see what was going on. He promised to text the driver, once he had solid information.

While waiting anxiously for news, VOA saw a man dressed in black jeans, a black t-shirt and a black baseball cap walk down the road, toward the roadblock with a large automatic-type rifle in hand.

"Can we go through?" one of the tourists asked him. He responded with a nod - which was impossible to read.

After a series of tense minutes, the tour guide returned, visibly shaken. Without speaking he made a circle motion with his finger indicating turn around. "What did you see out there? " he was asked.

"They [thugs] have two trucks blocking the road entirely," Gesner said, adding that the group of young men were armed and made it known they were not interested in taking bribes. "They said anyone who tries to cross will be shot," he said. "We have to turn around."

A makeshift roadblock made of rocks on the road to Jacmel.

Some of the tourists suggested the bus wait on the side of the road to see if the thugs had a change of heart, but the tour guide repeated that the only option was to turn around. The bus made a U turn and headed back toward Leogane, in search of shelter and food.

Plan A aimed to have lunch and re-attempt to make it out of Gressiers. Plan B was to stay at a hotel and re-attempt to leave before dawn on Monday.

The Buccanier Beach Club hotel in Leogane where the tourists spent the night.

Late afternoon, word came from multiple relatives in the capital that the situation was unsafe, there was shooting, more looting and threats of more violence overnight.

Later, a security guard working at the hotel told VOA that the roadblock at Gressiers had been cleared.

The U.S. Embassy informed Americans in Haiti that it would be closed, and advised citizens to continue sheltering in place.

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