U.S. Church Youth Groups Stranded In Haiti By Violent Protests

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Violent protests over gasoline prices in Haiti have cut off routes to the airport for several U.S. church service groups, leaving them stranded.

Protests erupted Friday in response to an announcement from Haitian government officials that fuel prices would increase as part of a plan to reduce government subsidies for fuel and increase spending on social services. Protesters set up flaming barriers in the streets, paralyzing Haiti’s capital, halting traffic and preventing several U.S. church groups from reaching the airport to fly home. (RELATED: State Department: Don’t Go To Haiti, It’s Too Dangerous)

“The Embassy is aware flights are arriving to Port-au-Prince’s international airport.  We continue to advise U.S. citizens to shelter in place at this time.  If you do decide to leave your residence or hotel to travel to the airport, please exercise extreme caution,” a security alert from the U.S. embassy in Haiti read Monday.

My Life Speaks, a nonprofit group operating in Haiti, said mission groups from the Glade Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and Woodland Community Church in Bradenton, Florida, were stranded as of Sunday, according to Fox News.

The team from Bradenton attempted to reach the airport at 4 a.m. on Saturday, but encountered a roadblock manned by armed men who demanded bribes in exchange for safe passage. The group negotiated their way past the blockade, but were soon met with another roadblock, this time in the form of burning tires and more armed protesters.

“They weren’t government or police. Just people taking advantage of the situation,” said executive pastor Dewayne McFarlin, according to CNN.

A team from Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina also reported that they were safe, but still stranded, as did Pastor Mike Ennis of  Faith Community Church in Trussville, Alabama, concerning his team.

“Haiti is in a tough situation,” Ennis told The Trussville Tribune. “We went to bring hope to an area that has very little hope. This validates why we went there in the first place.”

Some flights out of Haiti have resumed, but many are overbooked and the airport remains crowded. Many other American citizens have been forced to take shelter in their respective hotels from mobs of protesters rioting in the streets and hurling rocks through windows. At least 120 Americans and about 100 Haitians have sought shelter in Oasis Hotel in Port Au Prince.

The Haitian government has since reversed its decision concerning fuel prices and subsidies, but the violence continues.

At least seven people have been killed thus far, though the exact death toll remains unclear.

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