New U.S. Ambassador Pamela White witnessed first-hand the violent unrest that has spread across Haiti for months when she and President Michel Martelly were met by angry protesters while en route to a coastal town to dedicate a new road financed by American funds.
National police fired tear gas and used billy clubs to forcibly break up the group of angry demonstrators on motorcycles who tried to prevent White and Martelly from attending the ceremony in Petit-Goave, about 43 miles southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Police beat the demonstrators shouted and killed livestock before using the tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Police injured several protesters, and one 80-year-old woman died from asphyxiation from the tear gas, according to a Haitian news report.
Martelly later criticized protesters demonstrating against a more than 40 percent rise in food prices and spikes in inflation since the former pop singer took office in May 2011 as president of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
“These are not demonstrations — even if they were to last for five years — that will solve the problem of the high cost of living,” Martelly said.
White had been worried about the protests, which grew over the summer, even before she traveled to Petit-Goave to open the road that will connect the town to Haiti’s National Route 2, the main highway south of the capital.
“These demonstrations are SO unfortunate,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “Burning tires will not change a thing. They will turn off international business interests.”
Haitian lawyer Gilet Bruniole denounced police tactics against a populace that struggles with daily survival, saying that, rather than accompanying the people in their misery, the government chose to send police officers to beat them.
President Barack Obama appointed White to be the U.S. ambassador to Haiti in January 2012. She arrived in country to begin her tour of duty in August.
White had previously served as the American ambassador to The Gambia.