Market women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo credit: Vania Andre

Political instability and gang violence threaten way of life for Haiti’s ti marchand (market women)

Madame Marcelin was one of many merchants who lost everything when the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince burned down last year. 

“I didn’t save nothing, anything from the fire,” Marcelin said through a translator. 

Merchants in Haiti’s vast informal economy rely on income they receive from the sale of goods – items like produce, household accessories, clothing and handicrafts – to feed themselves and their families. The fire made life much more difficult for Marcelin and the large household she is responsible for. 

“I don’t have nothing, and I have a lot of (children) they’re expecting food from me,” she said. 

The fire that burned down much of the iconic Iron Market, which Digicel spent $12 million to reconstruct after the 2010 earthquake, occurred in February 2018. Another fire struck the Iron Market five months later, in July. 

A total of five market fires occurred in 2018, tying 2016 for the second-highest yearly total recorded since 1987, according to Enquet’ Action Haiti. 

But the blazes have not ceased. This May, fires have ravaged markets in Delmas and Malpasse, destroying valuable fabrics, jewelry, shoes and merchant kiosks. 

Authorities have not reported any arrests in connection to the fires. According to Francois Pierre-Louis, a professor of political science at Queens College in New York City and former Haitian government official, market fires are never accidental and are usually carried out by gangs with deep political ties. They frequently occur during times of political instability. He also said poor merchants have largely paid the price for this political violence. 

Lost goods, devastated communities


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