Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Haitians seek water, food as businesses reopen after riot

Published:Tuesday | February 19, 2019 | 12:09 AM
Demonstrators drag the body of a fellow protester towards the police as a form of protest, after police shot into the crowd in which he died, during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on February 12.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP):

Businesses and government offices slowly reopened across Haiti on Monday after more than a week of violent demonstrations over prices that have doubled for food, gas and other basic goods in recent weeks, and allegations of government corruption.

Public transportation resumed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where people began lining up to buy food, water and gas as crews cleared barricaded streets, where hundreds of thousands of Haitians had protested to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.

The president has refused to step down, though his prime minister, Jean-Henry Céant, said over the weekend that he has agreed to reduce certain government budgets by 30 per cent, limit travel of government officials and remove all non-essential privileges they enjoy, including phonecards. Céant also vowed to investigate alleged misspending tied to a Venezuelan programme that provided Haiti with subsidised oil, and said he has requested that a court audit all state-owned enterprises.

But many Haitians remained wary of those promises, and schools remained closed on Monday amid concerns of more violence.

“The government is making statements that are not changing anything at this point,” said Hector Jean, a motor taxi driver who was waiting for customers. He recently had to buy a gallon of gas for 500 gourdes (US$6), more than twice what he normally pays, and he has been unable to find customers who can afford to pay higher fares.

“It’s very hard to bring something home,” he said. “I have three kids.”

Other goods in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation have also doubled in price in recent weeks: A sack of rice now costs US$18 and a can of dry beans around US$7. In addition, a gallon of cooking oil has gone up to nearly US$11 from US$7. Inflation has been in the double digits since 2014, and the price hikes are angering many people in Haiti, where about 60 per cent of its nearly 10.5 million people struggle to get by on about US$2 a day. A recent report by the US Agency for International Development said about half the country is undernourished.

The latest violent demonstrations prompted the US government to warn people last week not to travel to Haiti as it urged Moise’s administration to implement economic reforms and redouble efforts to fight corruption and hold accountable those implicated in the scandal over the Venezuelan subsidised oil programme known as PetroCaribe. A Haitian Senate investigation has alleged embezzlement by at least 14 former officials in ex-President Michel Martelly’s administration, but no one has been charged. Meanwhile, Haitians have demanded a probe into the spending of the $3.8 billion Haiti received as part of the PetroCaribe programme.

“Corruption goes unpunished, and people are just really tired of it,” said Athena Kolbe, a human rights researcher who has worked in Haiti. “I can’t imagine that things are going to calm down.”