The Miami Herald
Feb. 13, 2004

In capital, life's daily toil continues

The violent political crisis that is unfolding in Haiti is touching many people's lives, but most Haitians just press on with the struggle for survival.


  PORT-AU-PRINCE -- The open-air markets were as busy as ever this week, with hundreds of street vendors peddling their goods to potential customers.

  An endless flow of schoolchildren in their bright uniforms walked home or jammed into tap taps, the battered trucks with wooden benches that are the backbone of Haiti's public transportation system.

  Except for portable radios blaring news of the unrest in a growing number of towns and villages across the country that have left nearly 50 dead, life rolled on in much of the nation as if nothing were amiss.

  The political crisis threatening to unravel Haiti's social fabric touches the eight million souls here in many ways. But most Haitians carry on. For most of the impoverished nation, a majority of which is self-employed selling fruits and vegetables and second-hand goods, there's no choice.


  ''What's important for me is to take care of my kids who have no father,'' said Brisson Boucicot, 50, who has seven mouths to feed. ``Thinking about politics is not going to help me.''

  Boucicot is a widow and mother of seven children. Nine hours a day, six days a week, she sits on a sidewalk in the searing sun selling fried hot dogs and plantains.

  Near the intersection of John Brown and Claire du Fort roads, she waits patiently for customers she hopes are as hungry as her children.

  But it's tough. On a good day, she makes $20, but most of it goes to repay a loan she received to start the business two years ago. And since the political crisis began after legislative elections in 2000 that opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide insist were flawed, those fried hot dogs and plantains haven't exactly been flying out the coffee-colored cooking oil in the banged-up frying pan.

  ''And when there are demonstrations, I don't come out,'' she said with a squint forced by the sun. ``On those days I don't make any money.''

  The loss of a day's wages could mean forgoing new shoes for one of her children or settling for a diet that may exclude some essential foods.

  A 100 pound bag of rice doubled in price in the last decade from $10 to $20, with the income of most Haitians not keeping up with increased costs, said John Kernizan, 36, who sells used consumer electronics and small appliances imported from Miami.

  Along a busy sidewalk, the worn televisions and stereos people in the United States likely replaced with newer models are stacked high to catch the eye of potential buyers.

  Kernizan laments that because there's often no electricity, he can't demonstrate the products. ''Before they buy, people want to see that it works,'' he said.


  Kernizan, who has been in business for 15 years, said it is the first time in that period he may have to call it quits. With four employees, a wife and two children to put through school, things are that bad, he said.

  He buys the televisions for about $10 and prices them between $12 and $20.

  ''I haven't sold anything in months,'' Kernizan said. ``When people have jobs is when they buy these products. We sold well when things were stable.''

  He said the armed uprising in Gonaives and other towns north of the capital has affected the psyche of the population in the capital.

  ''There has to be change,'' he said. ``It affects me a lot.''

  Kernizan said he's not optimistic about the way things will turn out in the country.

  Even with no sales he still has to give his employees, who work on commission, some money for them to stick with him and feed their own families. He said he turns to loan sharks for money to carry him through the tough times.

  ''If this continues I will have to quit,'' he said. ``Every day prices are going higher because the American dollar is rising and the gourde falling. I want my country to be delivered from this crisis.''

  Kernizan said he has not taken a political position, but it troubles him to see the fancy cars government officials drive while most Haitians struggle to feed themselves.

  ''They need to be conscious of the people who are suffering,'' he said. ``If they had the goodwill and came out here, and saw the people, they would come up with a solution. The president is always talking about five years and the people are dying of hunger.''

  Jean Fritz, 16, a junior at Roger Anglade School in Port-au-Prince, said that despite the troubles he hasn't missed a day at the private school.

  He said he and his classmates don't concern themselves much with politics.

  Jean, who is being raised by a single mother who works as a secretary, said he thinks mostly about typical teenage matters.

  ''I know about the political problems, but they really haven't affected me. I don't think about it,'' he said, adjusting his backpack and continuing his casual stroll home.