With Haiti’s civil unrest showing no sign of letting up, many foreign nationals are being urged to escape the country immediately. The problem is, massive roadblocks have continued to hamper evacuation efforts. Indeed, driving to the main airport in Port-au-Prince has become nearly impossible, if not utterly perilous. Those seeking to escape face intimidating mobs, makeshift checkpoints, the threat of extortion and even physical attacks.
One such group that was desperate to find safe passage home was a group of Canadian missionaries from the organization “Haiti Arise.” They found themselves stranded within a compound, located about 30 miles outside of the capital. Faithwire spoke to a member of the missionary team to gather more information on the nature of their terrifying ordeal and miraculous escape.
“The unrest began on the 7th of February,” said Kathleen Kauffman, who was among the 26 Christian workers rescued. “The Canadian government urged us to evacuate. We had planned on leaving on Wednesday but we bumped our leaving time to Tuesday, Feb. 12. We got up early in the morning intending to drive but the roads were too dangerous and were blocked. We had several mornings like that.”
Kauffman noted that at their evening church service, one of the women shared that she and her family had to leave their house because “the police were using gas and the gas was making them sick.” Things were getting more dangerous by the minute and the team quickly realized that piecing together an evacuation plan was now a top priority. With the roads nothing short of treacherous, the team looked at the possibility of taking a helicopter.
“We had heard of the possibility of helicoptering out but because of the cost $400 each and the hope that the rioting would die down for the weekend we chose to wait it out,” Kauffman told Faithwire.
But things just kept on getting worse, as the violence continued to intensify.
“Soon we realized that the rioting was not dying down but escalating,” she said. Finally, they decided call in the helicopter as an emergency measure.
“We had been told we would be picked up by helicopter Friday afternoon but the helicopter did not show up,” Kathleen explained.
Then, after a painstaking wait, help eventually arrived.
“The helicopter company contacted at us saying that it was going to be too dark to fly us all out (it would take 3 trips). The next day we were ready by 6 a.m. in the field by the children’s village. We were flown out in three trips spread out throughout the day. By 5:30 p.m. all of us had made it to the Port-au-Prince airport. We flew in the three groups at different times to Miami, Dallas and then Calgary. The last group to arrive in Calgary arrived at 10 p.m. on Sunday.”
How did their faith sustain them during this testing time?
“Our team met every morning at 6:30 a.m. to pray and have devotions,” Kauffman explained. “We also had prayer times throughout the day and at the evening services at Haiti Arise. We prayed for peace for Haiti. We prayed for intervention for those without food, water and electricity. We prayed for the Haitians to put their faith in Jesus. We prayed for a way to the airport. We were not afraid. We were always safe at Haiti Arise.”
But not everyone chose to leave. Kauffman noted that the group’s founder, Mark Honorat, is still there — serving frightened Haitians who are in daily need of food and water.
“Our team continues to pray for Haiti and Haiti Arise. Mark, the founder of Haiti Arise, is handing out rice, beans and oil to the people,” Kathleen noted. “Mark and Lisa are really making a difference in Haiti and could use as much support as they can get.”
In one video, posted below, children can be seen returning to the school that is operated by the mission organization. “This is very promising,” Mark said of the busy classroom. “Hopefully, things will start to improve from now. That’s what we are praying for.”
Some of our tech school students have started to come back to class today! #prayforhaiti #futuregenerations #haiti #haitiarise
Posted by Haiti Arise on Thursday, February 21, 2019
“Haiti Arise is still here,” Honorat said in a Facebook video Tuesday.
Our mission hasn’t changed! Despite the unrest around us we are still here…on the ground…in Haiti.www.haitiarise.org/donate#haiti #prayforhaiti #haitiarise
Posted by Haiti Arise on Tuesday, February 19, 2019
“There are lots of needs,” he said. “The people in our community need food, water and medical assistance.”
What is causing the uproar in Haiti?
Over the past couple of weeks, protests have become increasingly violent, with thousands calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. Allegations of corruption have been swirling around Moise in light of the massive hike in fuel prices. Though the president has refused to step down, the prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, said over the weekend that he has agreed to “reduce certain government budgets by 30 percent, limit travel of government officials and remove all non-essential privileges they enjoy, including phone cards,” according to the Miami Herald.
However, many working Haitians do not believe this is good enough.
“The government is making statements that are not changing anything at this point,” one local, Hector Jean, told the Herald.
Jean noted that he recently purchased a gallon of gas for 500 gourdes ($6), which is double what he usually pays. The government is accused of misappropriating billions of dollars and causing the national currency inflation rate to spike.
“Corruption is one of the biggest problems. We need to fight corruption,” the prime minister declared in his address, referring to the siphoning off of revenues from Venezuelan subsidized oil — something that was discovered through an official auditor’s report into government affairs. For years, oil-rich Venezuela had been providing cheap fuel to Haiti through a deal orchestrated by former leader Hugo Chavez.
Following Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, the Petrocaribe scheme quickly became a money-maker for the Haitian government — as they took control of the subsidized oil revenues and began to line their pockets. Jovenel Moïse, who came to power on Feb. 7, 2017, has been accused of carrying on this legacy of corruption, much to the detriment of the impoverished Haitian population.
According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with 60 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day.
Five Americans arrested
In a rather bizarre development, Haitian authorities announced Wednesday that five heavily armed Americans were detained at the weekend on charges of “possession of illegal weapons.” In an interview with CNN, Haitian Police Chief Michel-Ange Gédéon noted that those arrested were found to be carrying “automatic weapons, pistols, satellite phones and drones.” The police chief noted that they were taken into custody after being spotted driving suspicious-looking vehicles without license plates.
According to the Herald, three of the men were U.S. military vets, and one a federal contractor for the U.S. government. A shocking detail emerged Tuesday — according to reports, one of the unmarked cars that the men were traveling in belonged to Fritz Jean-Louis, an adviser to embattled President Jovenel Moïse. They were detained about a block away from the country’s central bank in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The men told police “they were on a mission, and they didn’t have to speak to us,” Port-au-Prince police chief Joel Casseus explained. “They said they were on a government mission.”
The mysterious armed men have since returned to the United States, and will face no further charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office simply stated: “The return of the individuals to the U.S. was coordinated with the Haitian authorities.”
The State Department has issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning for Haiti “due to crime and civil unrest.”