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Haiti Protests

After fleeing Haiti amid protests, missionary shares what he saw on the ground

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By HALEIGH DIBETTEA, WJAC

CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (CIRCA via WJAC) — "These protests are not unheard of, but normally they happen for a day or two. And you just sit tight and they'll clear up, but now we're 10 days into this protest," said Travis Knipple, a missionary who recently escaped the protests in Haiti.

Protests in Haiti broke out Feb. 7 over skyrocketing inflation and corruption related to President Jovenel Moise. Haitians say they will continue to protest until Moise resigns.

"Protesters took to the streets and basically put up roadblocks. For us, even in a small, rural area, we were stuck with about a 1-mile stretch of road that was passable," said Knipple.

Knipple, a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, native, has worked as a missionary in Haiti for over eight years with F1 Missions Engineering. The organization helps provide solar energy to Haitians and trains apprentices.

Because of the protests, Knipple and his family, who live in Jacmel, Haiti, decided to come back to Pennsylvania for the time being.

Protesters have been creating roadblocks, which have caused hospitals and banks to close. The demonstrations have also left many Haitians with little to no food, water or gas.

Knipple set up a charging station outside his Jacmel home to help Haitians charge phones and lights.

"A typical protest, you can get by on foot or even on a motorcycle. These ones, they wouldn't even let motorcycles pass. And then some of them actually wouldn't even let you get by on foot and were throwing rocks or bottles at people to keep them from even walking across the roadblocks," said Knipple.

Several people have been killed so far as a result of the protests. However, over the weekend, protesters decided to pause to allow people to get food, water and other supplies.

Knipple hopes the protests end soon so he and his family can return to help others.

"The protests are making life worse in the short term, with a really strong goal of trying to get things better. Unfortunately, no one has a solution for what that better is yet. They just know that in their current state, that it's unsustainable," said Knipple.

Businesses and government offices slowly reopened across Haiti on Monday after more than a week of the violent demonstrations.

Public transportation resumed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where people began lining up to buy food, water and gasoline as crews cleared streets of barricades thrown up during the protests.

Moise has refused to step down, though his 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 nonessential privileges they enjoy, including phone cards. Ceant also vowed to investigate alleged misspending tied to a Venezuelan program that provided Haiti with subsidized oil and said he has requested that a court audit all state-owned enterprises. He also said he would increase the minimum wage and lower the prices of basic goods, although he did not provide specifics.

Many Haitians remained wary of those promises, and schools remained closed Monday amid concerns of more violence.

The latest violent demonstrations prompted the U.S. government to warn people last week not to travel to Haiti as it urged Moise's administration to implement economic reforms and redouble efforts to fight corruption and hold accountable those implicated in the scandal over the Venezuelan subsidized oil program, known as Petrocaribe. A Haitian Senate investigation has alleged embezzlement by at least 14 former officials in ex-President Michel Martelly's administration, but no one has been charged. Meanwhile, Haitians have demanded a probe into the spending of the $3.8 billion Haiti received as part of the Petrocaribe program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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