PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – More than 1,000 Haitians marched through the Caribbean nation's capital Monday to protest a reported plan to destroy their hillside shanties for a flood-control project before they find better, more permanent dwellings in the wake of a devastating earthquake. Police fired tear gas in an attempt to control the protesters, some of whom threw rocks.
The demonstrators snaked through the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area chanting threats to burn down the relatively affluent district where the shanties sit if the authorities flatten their homes.
The No. 2 official at the Environment Ministry, Pierre Andre Gedeon, said on a local radio broadcast last week that officials want to demolish several hundred homes to build channels and reforest the hillsides in an effort to curb the deadly floods that come with the annual rainy season. Officials have made no other public reference to the plan. Calls to the ministry on Monday were not answered.
Many of the threatened homes are in Jalousie, a cinderblock shantytown that spreads across a mountainside alongside the affluent city of Petionville that makes up the Port-au-Prince metro area.
The protesters said President Michel Martelly fell short on his promise to build homes destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The disaster destroyed tens of thousands of houses in the capital and other cities in the south, and officials said 314,000 people died.
"Martelly didn't build any houses. How can he destroy our homes?" said 22-year-old Joel Jean-Pierre. "If he comes to destroy our homes we're going to burn down Petionville."
The government is building hundreds of homes north of the capital but, but too few to house the more than 400,000 people still living in the precarious settlements that emerged in the aftermath of the quake.
In an effort to move people out of the camps, the Haitian government, foreign aid groups and governments gave displaced people yearlong rental subsidies. Residents of six highly visible camps moved into hillside shanty areas such as Jalouise. Others have moved there because they were evicted by land owners.
Port-au-Prince, a city of some 3 million, has seen concrete houses and hovels sprawl across its hills because governments past and present have failed to provide affordable housing. Many of those homes crash down the hills every year during the country's rainy seasons and people often die.
The march on Monday began peacefully but some protesters threw rocks at a towering hotel financed in part by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a nonprofit set up after the earthquake by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The demonstrators were angry to see the opulent hotel under construction amid fears that they will lose their homes.
When the protesters reached downtown Port-au-Prince, riot police carrying shields tried to break up the crowds by firing tear gas canisters. Some people threw rocks at the police and also at passing motorists, some of whom had their windows broken.
Associated Press reporters saw one woman injured in the head after being hit in the head with a rock.