Civil Unrest in Haiti

Photo Source: CNN

By Naveed Qazi | By Globe Up Front

The streets of Haiti are in a mayhem, after several Haitian protestors demanded the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, over allegations of misuse of around $4 billion unaccounted public funds, and soaring inflation, affecting common households.

These protests erupted in February 2019 and have forced the closure of schools, shops, government offices and public transport. As cars have been set ablaze, and people have clashed on the streets with the police, several demonstrators have been killed since then.

At the fences of Haiti’s State TV offices, fire extinguishers were seen thwarting the burning cars. Roads were blocked with burning tyres. Some youth were seen carrying cooking stoves, amidst protests near Port-au-Prince, reflecting serious economic problems.

During the unrest, UN forces from Senegal were seen patrolling the streets of the country’s capital. As per initial reports of CNN, these protests had begun on the second anniversary of Jovenel Moise's election. It is because the protestors have been unhappy with Moise because he didn’t initiate any probe, into corruption cases, against former President, over issues with PetroCaribe, an oil cartel of various Caribbean states with Venezuela, that provides subsidised petroleum products, with an option of financing over a twenty-five-year period. The amalgam offered a down payment of just 60%, which eventually led to Haiti’s burdening debt crises. The deal was signed by Hugo Chavez, to win more allies, in the region. During Maduro’s time, the deal slowly began to wind down, and its aftermaths have now been reflected on the streets.

In the skirmishes, around four people were declared dead,  as protestors were seen dragging blood-stained dead bodies on the streets. Some protestors even blocked roads that lead to Moise’s house, and some even stoned his property. To reconcile with the protestors, President Moise, a member of Pitit Dessalines party, was seen standing on a motorcycle and gesturing, as a sign of solidarity. But, in a recent statement, he said that he will not step down, as his resignation will pave the way for drug traffickers, dominating the country, and this radical step, if taken, will also instigate a civil war.

Soon after, the opposition leaders demanded that people should pour onto the streets again. The protestors used the slogan Kot kòb Petrocaribe a?” meaning “Where is the PetroCaribe money?” During the weekend, around 200 people burned American flags, calling on Russia for assistance. They shouted: “Down Americans, Long Live Putin.”

In July 2018, there were similar protests, when the prices of gasoline, kerosene, diesel had a double-digit increase. There have been also reports of food shortages. It was part of the policy of the International Monetary Fund, to eliminate fuel subsidies and increase government revenue. It also led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Jack Guy, after a no-confidence vote was passed unto him, in the Parliament, last year.

In a prison near Aquin, several prisoners made an escape, after leaving their cells for a scheduled shower, as prison guards became busy curbing nearby demonstrations.

In its economic woes, Haiti owes billions in debt to Venezuela. However, the President has assured that the recent scandal of alleged misuse of public funds will be investigated. To curb the recent public discontent, the Prime Minister announced a remedial measure that will include reduction of prices of the basic commodities. 

Prime Minister, Jean Henry Ceant, has announced a 30 per cent reduction in his budget allocation. He is suggesting the President and the Senate follow the same policy. By addressing the nation on media, he said that there will be an audit, in all autonomous state enterprises, to ensure any diverted funds are recovered. A direct programme with food producers will come up, that will look into cutting down prices of staple foods such as rice – from 50 to 35 gourdes.

Prime Minister Céant said in an interview: “There would be the abolition of all the unnecessary privileges of senior state officials’ such as fuel costs, phone cards, travel abroad, number of consultants on files and reconsideration of providing them with a second residence. These savings will, for example, strengthen the judiciary by giving it additional resources to facilitate the completion of the PetroCaribe trial.”

Quite recently, Haiti suffered from natural disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew, that struck southwestern part of the country, near Les Anglais in 2016. In 2010, thousands of people had died in a massive earthquake. In its rising social problems, the Haitian government loses an estimated 60 billion gourdes annually at borders and customs, due to the smuggling of goods. In 2017, a Haitian special Commission accused twelve government officials and several heads of private firms of embezzlement. 

According to World Bank figures, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with 59% of people living below the poverty line. Around 24% of people live in extreme poverty.

In this unrest, more than a hundred tourists are stranded, and they will be sent back to their home country in a rescue flight, with the help of the Canadian government. Among these tourists, there were missionaries from Southern Alberta and nurses, who were trapped in a compound, in Grand Goave, some 50 kilometres from the capital. Many Canadian tourists came into the country through purchased vacation packages by Canadian Airliner, Air Transat. With the result, the Canadian government has advised its citizens not to travel to the country. It also called for US citizens to leave the country, till commercial flights remain operational. Some 500 Filipino tourists were also advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs to make security arrangement for themselves, during the political turmoil. They were asked to register online at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.

In this tumultuous time, Haitian authorities have confirmed about arresting five US citizens, who were found with illegal weapons. According to Jacqueline Charles, of the Miami Herald, they were on some “US Government Mission”, and were also found with a telescope, satellite machine, drones, besides some automatic rifles. 

US government, on the other hand, has called for a greater investment climate, job opportunities, and “genuine dialogue and compromise” in the Caribbean country.


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