Unrest in Haiti
Haiti’s government is under siege as public anger grows over allegations that billions in foreign aid has been pocketed by corrupt politicians.
Yesterday, six people were killed and at least a half-dozen more wounded amid protests and clashes with police as the country marked the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Vertières, a major victory in the slave uprising against the French army that won the island its independence.
More demonstrations are planned for today.
In Port-au-Prince, a crowd of several thousand blocked roads, setting alight bonfires of tires and garbage as they chanted anti-government slogans and waved the old black-and-red flag that Haiti replaced after the Duvalier dictatorship was ousted from power in 1987.
At one point, protesters threw rocks at police protecting the offices of Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant. And there were reports of gunmen in unmarked cars firing indiscriminately into the crowds.
It’s the second round of violent clashes in less than a month, and the unpopular President Jovenel Moise appears to be running scared. He cancelled a planned visit to Vertiéres yesterday and zipped through a wreath-laying ceremony in the capital in under 10 minutes.
The anger stems from widespread public suspicion of corruption surrounding some $3.8 billion US in money and discount oil that Haiti received from Venezuela starting in 2005 as part of a regional Petrocaribe aid program.
The Haitian Senate produced reports in 2016 and 2017 alleging that nearly $2 billion of the money, which was intended for infrastructure and economic development projects, was embezzled or misappropriated.
The probes implicated 14 senior members of the government of former President Michel Martelly in the alleged fraud, but to date no one has been charged. And Moise, who succeeded Martelly as leader of the Tèt Kale [Baldhead] party, is perceived to be doing little to advance the investigation.
The protests have been spurred by the viral “Kot Kob Petwo Karibe a?” campaign, with Haitians from all walks of life taking to social media and demanding to know what happened to the PetroCaribe money.
Moise’s administration has been on dangerous ground since July, when its plan to end government subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosene — hiking prices by almost 50 per cent overnight — touched off a week of nationwide protests and rioting. The proposal was quickly abandoned and then-Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned, but the dissatisfaction has persisted.
Moise, who barely eked out a victory in the disputed 2016 general election, has said that corruption is the biggest issue facing his nation. But he himself faces unresolved allegations of money laundering, and since coming to office has replaced the heads of both government fiscal watchdogs with his own hand-picked men.
Meanwhile, the country’s economic situation grows ever more precarious. The foreign aid that flowed in following 2010 earthquake and subsequent hurricanes has all but dried up, and the government has few domestic revenue sources to tap.
This year’s budget deficit is forecast to be as much as $470 million Cdn. And more than six million of its 10.5 million citizens live on less than $3.15 a day, solidifying Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the Americas.
Canadian and American diplomats have reportedly been busy trying to defuse the situation, holding meetings with Moise and parliamentarians, and urging restraint in the face of the protests.
But the reality is that Haiti remains a basket case, sharing the same rank as Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan and Burundi on the global corruption index, tied for 157th place among 180 nations.
And there has been little sign of improvement, regardless of who holds power.
Although this weekend’s protests brought a fitting close to the official week of “the audit, corruption and good governance.”