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6-7 July 2018, Port Au Prince, Haiti July 18, 2018
On 6-7 July 2018, CNN reported that hundreds of rioters in Port au Prince, Haiti, attacked at least two hotels, the Royal Oasis Hotel, and the Best Western Premier Petion-Ville, as they protested government price hikes of gasoline (38% rise), diesel (47% rise), and kerosene (51% rise). Haitians reportedly make an average of about $2.00 a day, so the price hike enraged part of the populace, and they acted out. Riots occurred in other Haitian cities after chaos in Port au Prince erupted. Eventually, the government rescinded these decrees, but not before heavy violence occurred.
Rioters set up roadblocks around town, they rampaged through the streets throwing rocks and carrying clubs, and they set cars and tires on fire in the streets. At least one rioter on CNN’s video appeared to have been armed with a Winchester Defender type shotgun (pistol grip, no stock – see the 1:13-1:15 video mark; individual wearing white tank top, dark pants, hood/face covering, cradling what appears to be a Defender type weapon.)
The Miami Herald reported gunshots were fired amidst the chaos. The Daily Mail published extensive photos of the violence, many of which showed widespread looting of businesses. Riot police deployed to contain the situation, which remained tenuous throughout 6-7 July. The New York Times reported that three people died during the chaos, and at one point, rioters tried to set a gas station on fire, but police stopped them.
“US citizens in #Haiti: – Shelter in place. Do not attempt to travel at this time. – Avoid protests and any large gathering of people. – Do not attempt to drive through roadblocks. – If you encounter a roadblock, turn around and get to a safe area.”
JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, and American Airlines all canceled flights to Haiti until the situation stabilized.
WRAL said that a 22-person medical mission from North Carolina was rescued by what was described as a “motorcycle gang” that wedged through the violence and escorted the group to the airport. The Haitian drivers of the medical mission appear to have organized the rescue.
Providence Journal said that another aid group arrived in town as the riots were developing. Their original destination had been the Best Western, but they opted for the Visa Lodge, instead, which was out of physical range – but within visual range – of the riots.
Details on the two main hotels impacted are as follows:
Royal Oasis Hotel: a four star, 128-room hotel located at 115, Rue Panamericaine, HT6110 Puerto Príncipe, Haití; rooms are about $130 a night. (Some research says the Royal Oasis is an Occidental hotel, which is owned by Barcelo Corporation in Spain. The Occidental website, however, shows no properties in Haiti.)
- Five cars were set on fire within the hotel’s compound, some of which were directly next to the hotel’s front entrance.
- Massive columns of thick black smoke towered up next to the hotel, partially enveloping it.
- At least three to five more cars on the street directly in front of the hotel were set alight.
- Other cars on hotel property were looted.
- Hundreds of rioters passed in front of the hotel, many of whom threw rocks at it.
- 20 American and 100 Haitian guests and staff were trapped inside.
- Hotel guest Stacy Librandi Bourne, medical professional of the NGO, HERO Client Rescue, told CNN by phone that rioters tried to penetrate the hotel and set fire to it, but security stopped them.
- Bourne also said that the hotel had a security plan to evacuate if need be, and they had barricaded themselves inside the building.
Best Western Premier Petion-Ville: a four star, 106-room hotel located at 50 Angle Louverture and Geffrard, Petion-Ville 6110, Haiti; rooms are about $120 a night.
- CBS46.com said that a few hundred rioters (reportedly, 300 men armed with machetes and clubs, said the Miami Herald) pelted the hotel with rocks at 10:00 am on 7 July.
- Press reports said security prevented a penetration of the hotel, but that rioters managed to smash up the building’s main entrance. There are no photographs or detailed reporting on this issue, however.
- Photos from the Star Herald did show one window of the Best Western damaged by about 30 or more rock hits, but the window held.
- Hotel guests, exact number unknown, barricaded themselves inside.
- Loophaiti reported that at least one car at the Best Western was set alight; another source said multiple cars were torched.
- The Miami Herald said that a mob “broke the front door of the Best Western hotel” and that “seven cars were set on fire” outside of the building.
- Twitter video here from HaitiInfoProject 📡 @HaitiInfoProjJul 7 shows a fire directly in front of/next to the Best Western. Aside from the narrator of the video saying it was the Best Western, the unique blue awning over the entrance shown in the video compared to photographs of the Best Western from Google shown here confirm that this fire did, in fact, take place directly next to the hotel.
Both the Royal Oasis and Best Western hotels were showcased in a 2013 Travel Weekly article touting Haiti’s fledging tourism sector and how it was integral to improving the country’s poor socio-economic plight.
There are four takeaways here. First, hoteliers need to monitor local friction issues that might develop into riots that could impact their hotels. The proliferation of social media and mass communications have resulted in a highly networked society – globally, yes – but also, and especially, at the local level. As a result, violent protest-riots can happen rapidly and with little warning. Hotels and businesses in Charlotte, North Carolina, experienced a similar security situation in September 2016. This is a trend that will continue to grow over the coming years.
Second, hoteliers need to understand that protest-riots can quickly get out of hand and target businesses not directly associated with the main issue causing the protest-riot. An aggrieved party can lash out against businesses that are precious to a government, such as a nation’s tourism sector and its luxury hotels. If these are damaged, some rioters believe, then a government will be forced to acquiesce to their demands, or at least address their concerns.
Third, the scale of violence during protests-riots can quickly get out of hand. Angry mobs can reach a frenzied state where individuals disregard their personal responsibilities. With individual responsibility lessened, mob violence increases. As demonstrated in Haiti, setting cars on fire directly next to these two hotels was exceedingly and aggressively hostile, and it could have burned both buildings to the ground, causing mass casualties. If these hotels had been penetrated by the rioters – as was attempted – mass personal violence could have occurred. The rioters did not care, however. They were enraged, and their method of communication was high order violence to get their message across to the government.
Expanding on point three, it is not clear if hotel security personnel and the physical security of these hotels prevented a worst-case scenario from happening, or if the rioters showed restraint, or if it was a combination of both. Because the rioters set fire to cars directly next to each hotel, which, again, could have caused a major tragedy, their restraint is in doubt.
Fourth, moving forward, hoteliers need to learn from situations like Haiti and Charlotte and develop mitigation methods to thwart these types of attacks. Based on what Ms. Bourne said, the Royal Oasis had some kind of security plan, perhaps an evacuation plan, and the guests were apparently briefed. This is proper, but such plans should not be makeshift. Also, effective hotel barricading should genuinely seal a building off from attackers. Stacking furniture up against doors and windows as happened at one hotel during the 2016 Charlotte riots will not suffice.
Reinforced entranceways, shatter and blast resistant windows – possibly what the Best Western had because its windows (or the one shown in press photos) held, despite being hit by scores of hand thrown missiles – are a good start. The ability to seal up a hotel and prevent toxic smoke and fumes from entering it is paramount. And, obviously, fire prevention for the hotel grounds, and not just for the inside of the hotel, should be considered.
Sources and further reading:
“Brown student among Americans sheltering in hotel amid Haiti violence,” Providence Journal, 10 July 2018.
“APTOPIX Haiti Fuel Protests,” Star Herald, 9 July 2018.
“Triangle mission groups share stories of riot scare in Haiti,” WRAL, 9 July 2018.
“As Haiti protests continue, US citizens warned to shelter in place,” CNN, 8 July 2018.
“As violent protests continue over gas prices, U.S. airlines cancel all flights to Haiti Saturday,” Miami Herald, 8 July 2018.
“Haiti – FLASH : Demonstrations, violence, balance of 2 days of chaos,” Haitilibre.com, 8 July 2018.
Official Twitter for U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. Haiti warning, 7 July 2018.
“Hartwell mission group comes home after being stranded in Haiti,” WTYVM.com, 7 July 2018.
“Best Western et Royal Oasis, cibles de manifestants,” Loophaiti, 7 July 2018.
“Haiti Suspends Fuel Price Hike After Protesters Riot,” Chicago Tribune, 7 July 2018.
“Haiti has put a fuel hike on hold. But is it enough to save the prime minister’s job?,” Miami Herald, 7 July 2018.
“Haiti suspends fuel price hike after protesters riot,” CBS46.com, 7 July 2018.
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