Holy Week in Haiti 2
By Father Bill Pomerleau
Here’s another troubling update from Haitian-American Marc-Donald Leon-fils, who is now in his hometown of Savanne à Roches, Haiti.
I spoke with Leon-fils by phone on April 2.
He told me that a riot broke out on March 22 when local officials held a food distribution in the town.
Savanne à Roches is normally a sleeping place spread out along the banks of the Artibonite River Valley in central Haiti. While census figures are very unreliable, it is believe that there were perhaps 80,000 inhabitants in the town and surrounding villages before the earthquake.
Today, Savanne à Roches’ population may have doubled with an influx of quake survivors.
“The local people call them refugees, but they don’t like that, since they say they have simply moved within their own country,” Leon-fils said.
Whatever they should be called, the fugees (the Creole term for refugee popularized by hip hop artist Wyclef Jean) were involved in a melee reminiscent of African refugee camps on th e 22nd of March.
The mayor and city council of Savanne à Roches, which normally has only a handful of local police officers and rarely has the presence of federal law enforcement, asked local members of Parliament to bring food from Port-au-Prince. The original idea was to distribute ration cards to earthquake victims, and distribute the food at several sites in the region.
But things went wrong from the start.
“They didn’t card for the cards like they did in Port-au-Prince of Petite Rivière. But there was a lot of bias in handing out the cards. Some friends of the officials got more than they needed, and some who needed food got none. And somewhere along the line, they decided to bring everything just to Savanne à Roches” Leon-fils reported.
When a truck loaded with food finally arrive in Savanne à Roches, it was greeted by angry people from surrounding towns. “They formed a konbit to get what they wanted,” Leon-fils said.
Konbit is a Creole term many Americans heard on CNN during their January news coverage in Port-au-Prince. Then, it referred to the spontaneous work crews who dug out earthquake victims from rubble in their neighborhoods.
Today in Savanne à Roches, the term means “mob.”
No one was seriously injured during the food riot, but the supplies were not fairly distributed to those who needed them most. Angry townspeople then attacked the home of the city councilor in charge of the distribution operation, Leon-fils told me.
The incident in Savanne à Roches is troubling to those who know Haiti.
The town was a hotbed of political unrest in 1991, when former President Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed in a coup d’etat; and again in 1994, when the military regime was deposed with the help of U.S. armed forces.
But similar unrest which occurred elsewhere in central and northern Haiti in 2003 when Aristide again left office bypassed Savanne à Roches. When I visited the town a few years ago, few people were in a revolutionary mood, despite their poverty and lack of jobs.
Savanne à Roches is also now suffering from another Haitian problem: fear. The Jan 12 earthquake that flattened most of Port-au-Prince was not felt at all there, although an aftershock a few days later shock the town, and collapsed a few flimsy walls made of cried mud.
“Everyone’s still sleeping outside. There are rumors that another big one is on the way,” Leon-fils told me.
Yet all is not gloom and doom in Savanne à Roches.
Parishioners of St. Louis-de-France Mission Church held a Holy Thursday servis April 1, complete with scripture readings, lay preaching, distribution of communion and washing of feet.
Servis is the Creole term for a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest. As one of several missions of the Petite Rivière de l’Artibonite Parish, St. Louis usually celebrates the liturgy without a priest.
St. Louis-de-France parishioners have scheduled a procession and service for Good Friday morning. On Saturday, they will celebrate the Easter Vigil.