Several thousand demonstrators marched in a two-day strike through the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince this past Sunday demanding the resignation of current President Jovenel Moise over allegations of corruption. Similar protests were seen in other parts of Haiti including Jacmel, Cap-Haitien, Saint-Marc, and Gonaives. The rally, organized by opposition parties and civil society groups, was led by young Haitians on motorcycles. Protestors have blocked roads and set piles of tires ablaze, resulting in school, business, and government office shutdowns. Officials have also postponed a Parliament session.
According to Al Jazeera, demonstrators clashed with police the day before, resulting in two reported deaths and five injuries. These protesters call for further investigation of the Petrocaribe program that has had allegations of corruption since its establishment in 2008. “We demand that all those squandering [public] funds be tried and punished, their assets seized and turned over to the state for serious development projects, and that the president resign and turn himself in,” said Velina Charlier, a protest leader.
Under the Petrocaribe program, Venezuela provided Haiti with subsidized oil shipments that deferred payments at interest rates as low as 1 per cent over 25 years. Government savings from the delayed payments were designated for investments in infrastructure to help the country’s poor.
However, much of the money never reached the poor. “The people who are governing this country are the ones stealing all the money,” said Dario Joseph, a construction worker who marched through the capital. A Senate investigation recently determined the misuse of $3.8 billion by government officials under former President Michel Martelly’s administration. Last Friday, a 600-page report by a panel of Haitian government auditors to the Senate cast new accusations against officials. In the report, the judges of the High Court of Auditors noted that Moise was at the centre of an “embezzlement scheme” that had extorted Venezuelan aid money, laying out a myriad of examples of corruption.
For instance, in 2014, Haitian authorities signed contracts with two separate companies, Agritrans and Betexs, for the same road-repair project. Upon investigation, the companies both had the same tax registration number and the same staff working for them. Agritrans was headed by Moise before he took office in February 2017. The company received over 33 million gourdes, which is around $700,000, to repair the road, yet Agritrans used the money to grow a banana plantation instead.
In addition, Venezuela’s collapsing economy has halted Petrocaribe shipments, leading to further problems in Haiti. Many Haitians now receive electricity for only a few hours a day. This is coupled with the current economic crisis in Haiti, with the inflation rate above 17 per cent and continued devaluation of the gourdes, a large number of Haitians are living without basic necessities. Almost 60 per cent of Haitians live under the international poverty line of $2.41 a day.
This past weekend was not the first time Haitians have taken to the streets demanding accountability. In February, violent protests erupted across Haiti, killing over nine. Yet these protests did not lead to a new cabinet, a new budget, or an assurance of legislative elections. Even more, President Moise and other government officials continue to deny accusations of corruption.
This situation has led to unrest in the region, disrupting civilian life even as opposition leaders are calling for supporters to demonstrate peacefully. The conditions of Haiti reveal administrative failure to secure basic human rights for its people. With the means to alleviate economic burdens, the government should use its power to help lift Haiti out of poverty. However, the indifferent attitude repeatedly exhibited by the Haitian authorities shows their lack of desire to be held accountable for alleged actions of embezzlement, and it can set a dangerous precedent for similar incidents in the future.
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