1 killed, 2 wounded as police clash with Haitian workers

Haiti Worker Protest
Factory workers march to demand a salary increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. It is the first day of a three-day strike organized by factory workers who also shut down an industrial park earlier this month to protest pay.
Associated Press/Odelyn Joseph

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Men wearing police uniforms fired into a group of people at a protest and killed a journalist Wednesday after thousands of Haitian factory workers launched a new strike to demand higher wages than those the prime minister announced earlier this week.

Associated Press journalists observed the men fire from a car with police license plates as the day’s protest appeared to be winding down. At least two journalists were seen to be wounded, and a third one identified as Maxihen Lazzare was killed.

“What happened today is a big hit for the press,” said Omeus Romane, director of Roi des Infos, a local digital media company for whom Lazzare worked. “If the constitution gives workers the right to protest, we as journalists are doing our job.”

A police spokesperson could not be reached for comment and the condition of the wounded people wasn’t clear.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry tweeted that he deplored the killing: “I also condemn the violence that has caused injuries. I offer my condolences to the family of the deceased, as well as to the other victims of these brutal acts.”

Earlier, police had fired tear gas as protesters threw rocks at them and used trucks to block a main road near the international airport in Port-au-Prince.

It was the first day of a three-day strike organized by factory workers who also shut down an industrial park earlier this month to protest pay, which then was about 500 gourdes ($4.80) for nine hours of work a day.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced minimum wage hikes late Sunday in an attempt to quell the protests. But the increase of 185 gourdes ($1.80) a day for factory workers only served to enrage them.

“Can you imagine? I have two kids, and I have to pay a home,” said 38-year-old Andre Saintil. “The government is keeping us in misery.”

“People can’t do anything with this miserable salary,” said Jean Wilkens Pierre.

The 39-year-old factory worker said the salary barely covers food and transportation costs at a time when Haiti is seeing double-digit inflation. He said he’d accept nothing less than a minimum daily wage of 1,500 gourdes ($14).

He was part of a crowd that carried tree branches and chanted, “You raised the gas, but didn’t raise our salaries,” referring to the prime minister’s recent announcement that the government could no longer afford to keep fuel subsidies in place.

“They probably think we can’t resist, that we’ll get tired of protesting, but this is going to be an ongoing fight…for them to understand we are human beings,” Saintil said.

Hours after the protest, Haiti’s Association of Industries issued a statement condemning what it called violent acts against factories located in the industrial park and elsewhere, and said it would close them on Thursday to protect workers and equipment.

The prime minister announced other salary increases including a new daily wage of 540 gourdes ($5) for those working in restaurants and agriculture and 770 gourdes (more than $7) for those employed in places including supermarkets, car dealerships and undertakers.

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Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.

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