A group of Haitian protesters is using Vodou and a battle tactic inspired by a Bible passage to get President Jovenel Moise to step down.
About 20 demonstrators circled Haiti's national palace seven times around midday Wednesday, a tactic taken from a Bible passage that was used by the Israelites to eliminate their first major obstacle on their path to the Promised Land - the fortified city of Jericho.
In the Bible passage, the Israelites walked around the walls of Jericho once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, then shouted, causing the walls to come tumbling down.
Haitian protest organizer Etzer Jean Louis explained why he took this tactic.
"It represents seven tours of deliverance. Seven tours that broke the walls of Jericho. Seven tours that will eliminate the mafia (gangs). Seven tours that will eliminate the criminals (holding us hostage). Today, you can already see the miracles these seven tours have made happen," he told VOA, without citing any examples.
Vodou symbols were also drawn using a white substance on a street near the presidential palace. A bundle of firewood was placed to the side and then set on fire, as protesters standing in a circle watched.
"God will strike them down so the Haitian people can breathe freely. COVID-19 has not stricken us down, but we are struggling, nonetheless. We are climbing up a steep hill," Jean Louis said. "Haiti must be liberated. And to make that happen, the first thing is to get Jovenel Moise out. We won't back down."
Moise said he will step down when his term expires February 7, 2022. The international community supports that stance but urged him to organize legislative and presidential elections as soon as possible. A constitutional referendum is planned for June 27, followed by legislative and presidential elections in September and November.
A spike in kidnappings during the past month has terrorized Haitians and threatens to derail the electoral process. Gangs are currently holding five Catholic priests, two nuns and three relatives of a priest they kidnapped on April 11. The abduction sparked national and international outrage and prompted condemnation from the religious sector.
The Catholic Church called for a three-day closure this week of all its institutions, including schools across Haiti.
VOA Creole's reporter on the scene said the president's motorcade arrived at the national palace as protesters were making their third round. National palace guards were in position outside the gates, preventing them from interacting with Moise.
On their fourth circle around the palace, police fired tear gas to disperse them. Although some of the protesters ran away, the majority remained to finish as planned.
It's not the first time protesters have used this tactic to effect change, according to anti-corruption activist Reginald Dume.
"On April 7, we circled the palace seven times, so today's seven tours (and the seven tours we made in March) will make it 21 tours of the palace in total," Dume told VOA. The activist said he also joined the protest to show support for the abductees.
"We're out here in a show of solidarity with all priests and nuns who are being subjected to a series of acts that people should never be subjected to. It's important for the Haitian people to know we don't have a choice. We should show the world that we are dignified people and continue mobilizing against the government," Dume said.
Opposition politician Abel Loreston, who participated in the protest, said progress has been made.
"We're advancing, we're fighting against state-sanctioned kidnappings, planned acts of violence, human rights violations. Too much blood has been shed, too many people have died. The nation can't take it anymore," said Loreston, who spoke to VOA during his fourth march around the national palace.
Moise denies having ties to gang members and has taken measures to shore up security in the capital.
During a national speech in March, he warned kidnappers that they would be hunted down and severely punished. An anti-kidnapping cell has been established within the national police force, and a state of emergency has been declared in neighborhoods where gangs are most active, the president announced. Despite these measures, the kidnappings continue.
A protester who declined to give his name said they know it won't be an easy fight.
"We knew the battle against Jovenel Moise and the PHTK (ruling party) wouldn't be easy. But we can't get discouraged. We must continue fighting. When you're at war, you may not know how long the battle will last, but we will fight until we get a victory," he said.
"Everyone should find what is happening (in Haiti) today revolting," Dume said.