Protests Rock Gonaïves, Cancelling Literary Celebration

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A commemoration of Jacques Stephen Alexis (above) in Gonaïves had to be canceled due to demonstrations.

Demonstrations that drew thousands in Gonaïves forced the cancellation of a literary event in the Artibonite city, event organizers said.

The Gonaïves demonstrations began Aug. 31 against the rising cost of living, skyrocketing crime, and fuel shortages. They erupted after marches started in Haiti’s southern region two weeks ago and have since spread to other cities around the country.

By Sep. 2, protesters were demanding de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation due to the worsening crises Haitians faces, according to local radio reports. The demonstrations paralyzed activities all over the city, including the 100th anniversary of Jacques Stephen Alexis, a literary icon and political activist.

Organizers of the event said via Facebook that the protesting crowds and the shortage of fuel forced them to postpone the three-day event indefinitely.

many of the guest speakers coming from Port-au-Prince could not travel to Gonaïves due to road blockades by demonstrators.

The centenary celebration was launched in April by Haiti’s Ministry of Culture, the first of several events set to take place throughout the year. Gonaïves was chosen as the starting place for the commemoration because Alexis was born in the city where Haiti’s independence was announced, organizers explained.

“The new independence advocated by Alexis was economic independence to promote the emergence of the working and peasant classes as a revolutionary class,” said Raoul Altidor, head of the organizing group and owner of Résidences Bois-de-Bry, dedicated to cultural events.

The Résidences Bois-de-Bry had planned to hold the themed conference — “The life and struggles of Jacques Stephen Alexis for a new independence” — along with the Public University of Artibonite and the Alliance Française des Gonaïves from Sep. 2 to Sep. 4. Various curated screenings, talks, and workshops by academics, writers, and political figures were programmed to discuss Alexis’ life and, in particular, his fight against the Duvalier dictatorship, which lasted from 1957 to 1986.

Over those decades, Alexis etched his name in Haiti’s literary and political history through his writings and advocacy for gender equality, democracy, living together, and freedom of expression.

However, many of the guest speakers coming from Port-au-Prince could not travel to Gonaïves due to road blockades by demonstrators. Then, the Gonaïves demonstrations continued nonstop from Aug. 31 to Sep. 2. As a result, public offices and banks closed and motor vehicles could not circulate.

The marches were the latest in an ongoing protest movement launched on Aug. 22 in Port-au-Prince, when demonstrators marched to Henry’s home, demanding that he resign. That week, Petit-Goâve, Jacmel, Gonaïves and Miragoâne also organized protest marches and rallies. On Aug. 30, a demonstration in Cap-Haitien led by the Pitit Dessalines Platform, a political party, demanded the same.

Despite the event’s cancellation, the Résidences Bois-de-Bry continued with its virtual conferences that are posted on the organization’s Facebook page.


An earlier version of this article was published on the website of The Haitian Times.

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