Violent protests in Haiti trap more than 100 Canadian tourists - InfoNews

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Violent protests in Haiti trap more than 100 Canadian tourists

A national police officer is helped by fellow officers after she was hit in the face with a rock thrown by protesters demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government's failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
February 14, 2019 - 1:00 PM

MONTREAL - A team of 26 aid workers with a missionary group from Quebec are among more than 100 Canadians trapped in Haiti after protesters blocked major highways across the Caribbean country in an effort to pressure President Jovenel Moise to resign.

The Canadian embassy in the country has been closed since Wednesday amid violent street protests that have claimed several lives over the past week. Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government's failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.

Michel Bougie, vice-president of an evangelical Christian foundation that been present in Haiti for 20 years, said his team had been scheduled to return home on Wednesday but "they can't move." His foundation's medical clinic is located in a walled compound in the village of Tiverny, about 200 kilometres west of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"All the roads in the country are blocked," Bougie said in Montreal. "It's really a well-concerted effort to literally paralyze the country with the goal of destabilizing the government." Bougie said his team of doctors, nurses and other personnel are safe despite the violence.

"The village itself isn't in danger," he said. Every March his La Bible Parle foundation sends a group of junior college nursing students to intern at the medical clinic, but Bougie said that might not happen this year due to the instability.

"We've lived through a coup d'etat, an earthquake, a hurricane — things can happen in this country," Bougie said. "But they are people we love enormously."

Other Quebecers are stuck in a hotel, unable to make it to the Port-au-Prince airport because of the protests. The only highway linking the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Indigo Beach resort to the airport is considered extremely dangerous, and people are staying off it. The hotel on the country's Cote des Arcadins is about 75 kilometres north of the capital.

Air Transat, which sold package tours to the resort, says its flights between Montreal and Haiti are continuing, but it has been unable to provide safe ground transport from the resort to the airport. Christophe Hennebelle, vice-president corporate affairs for the airline, said he is hopeful it will be possible to get the stranded tourists to the airport "in the coming days."

Marie-Christine Remy, said her mother, Terry Watson, and her mother's partner, Sylvain Limoges, were supposed to fly home with Air Transat last Sunday but could not make it to the airport. They were switched to a flight Wednesday but again could not get out.

"It's really troubling," Remy said from Sherbrooke, Que. "I called the Canadian government and they told me that it was best to stay at the hotel, which is safer. It is the highways that are particularly dangerous."

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Thursday it is providing consular advice to tour operators "as they work to ensure that their clients are able to leave Haiti safely. We encourage Canadians who are in Haiti as part of a package vacation to stay in touch with their tour operators as the situation develops."

The department said it has people on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to Canadian citizens despite the embassy closure. "We will continue to evaluate the security situation over the coming days to determine what steps are necessary to ensure that our diplomats and their families are safe," it said.

Some tourists have told Quebec media that helicopter transport to the airport is available at a very high cost. Hennebelle said it would not be feasible to transport the more than 100 people stranded at the resort by helicopter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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