Civil Unrest Brings Haiti to a Stand Still
Perhaps you’ve heard about the protests crippling Haiti for the past week. Thousands of Haitians in every major city (and many small towns as well) are voicing their frustration over inflation, unemployment, corruption, and the government’s inability to respond to their basic needs. They have vowed to demonstrate and disrupt transportation and commerce until President Jovenel Moise resigns.
Regrettably, it’s not until the situation on the ground reaches this type of boiling point that most of us here in the United States hear about it. Outside of those areas that have large Haitian populations, Haiti simply doesn’t make our daily news.
But this isn’t a situation that sprang up overnight. The frustrations so visibly on display this week were ignited back in July 2018, when the Haitian government announced that, “in order to insure [sic] that the country would qualify for low-interest loans from the International Monetary Fund, it was substantially raising the price of gasoline and diesel. Even the price of kerosene, which was used to light most homes in the Haitian countryside, was going up by fifty-one per cent.”1 Protests erupted almost immediately, and the government reversed its decision the next day. But it was a spark.
Around the same time, a Haitian “writer and filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau, Jr., tweeted a photo showing himself blindfolded like a kidnapping victim, holding a handwritten cardboard sign reading ‘Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???’ (‘Where is the PetroCaribe money???’).”2 His hashtag (#KotKòbPetwoKaribea) went viral, and Haitians became aware of an audit commissioned by five members of the Haitian Senate and released in October 2017 that “detailed years of corruption and no-bid contracts through which private corporations profited from the PetroCaribe program.”3 It’s outrage over this report and the president’s involvement in the scandal that is at the heart of the current protests.
This program “consists of a set of agreements between the Venezuelan government and individual Latin American and Caribbean governments, providing oil under a long-term payment plan. In Haiti’s case, the government has up to 90 days from the date of each delivery to pay Venezuela 60% of the bill but can pay the remainder over 25 years with only 1% interest. The plan is structured so that the Haitian government can take in revenues quickly by selling the oil domestically and then have use of the money for public works projects because of the long repayment schedule. The priorities are supposed to include agriculture, education, public works, sanitation and the environment.”4
The 2017 audit found that “$1.7 billion from the PetroCaribe Fund was either lost, squandered, or embezzled from 2008 to 2016. Its management ‘was marked by serious anomalies, irregularities, acts of malfeasance and fabrication,’ the report said. Today, analysts estimate that some $3.8 billion of PetroCaribe money is missing or misspent.”5
In a country facing “double digit inflation, skyrocketing prices, and a domestic currency in a free fall against the U.S. dollar,”6 the population is rightfully angry. Years of government ineptness, mismanagement, and corruption have taken their toll. To add insult to injury, in January, it was publically alleged that the president’s own company benefited directly from the missing PetroCaribe funds. To those allegations, he has remained silent. That is why the people want him to step down. They no longer trust him or his government to act in their best interest.
So, for now, the country is at a stand-still. Literally. Roads are closed to traffic due to burning tires, rock barricades, and jackknifed tractor trailers. By bringing transportation and commerce to a halt, the people hope to make their voices heard and affect change in a country where suffering is the norm and power resides with a select few.
1, 2 Danticat, Edwidge. “Haitians Want to Know What the Government Has Done with Missing Oil Money.” The New Yorker, 19 Oct. 2018, www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/haitians-want-to-know-what-the-government-has-done-with-missing-oil-money
3, 4 Marion, John. “Haitian Audit Report on Petrocaribe Corruption Deepens Crisis of Moïse Government.” Haiti Liberté, 2 Jan. 2018, www.haitiliberte.com/haitian-audit-report-on-petrocaribe-corruption-deepens-crisis-of-moise-government
5Ives, Kim. “The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency.” Counter Punch, 18 Sep. 2018, www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/18/the-roots-of-haitis-movement-for-petrocaribe-transparency
6 Charles, Jacqueline. “Haiti business leaders ask president to break gridlock after another day of violence.” Miami Herald, 11 Feb. 2019, www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article226112930.html