Port-au-Prince was calm on Monday, showing signs of a precarious and timid normalcy, following a weekend that was characterized by intense violence and anarchy. Trouble started after the Moïse/Lafontant government announced increases in the price of petroleum at the pumps, an increase that has since been rescinded because of the emotional public response. At various crossroads in the capital, groups of young men took over the roads, blocked them and held people walking by or driving through for ransom and taking the law into their own hands. Local radio stations reported several armed individuals in civilian clothing, walking in the streets in various neighborhoods across the city. In the commune of Delmas, businesses were looted as protesters, some of them armed with knives demanded the departure of President Jovenel Moïse. The scenes playing across the city were so dangerous that police officers from specialized law enforcement units had to use tear gas to disperse the crowds.
The genesis of this violence and rioting is in the FMI directed decision by the government to increase fuel prices across the country. The announcement was made on Friday with the decision to go into effect the next day. The price of gas was to increase by 38%, diesel by 47% and kerosene by 51%. Following the riots, the government changed course and said there will be no increase in fuel prices until further notice. Since protests began on Friday, some four (4) people have been reported dead in the ensuing violence and many business establishments suffered heavy losses. Most diplomatic missions including the US and Canada reportedly closed their embassies, while flights to and from the country were suspended.
At the root of the angst and anger among the population is the dire poverty in which the average person lives. According to the World Bank, out a population of 10.4million, 6 million, or 59 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line of US$2.41 per day, with more than 2.5 million, or 24 percent living in extreme poverty, meaning they live below US$1.23 per day. As the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti’s economic growth has been slowing down in part due to the poor performance of the agricultural sector hard hit by Hurricane Matthew. In 2016, economic growth was 1.5% compared to 1.2% in 2017. Public expenditure on the other hand increased largely due to post-hurricane construction, whereas resource mobilization continues to be a challenge with internal revenues only reaching 12.9 percent. Another factor is the depreciation of the gourde against the US dollar which changed from 62.85 gourdes to the dollar in October 2017 to 64.05 gourdes in February 2018. This depreciation is exacerbated by the governments decision in March to have all commercial transactions in gourdes.
One of the most interesting issue about this uprising against the increase in fuel prices is that no opposition group claimed to have organized the demonstrations. Young men have taken matter into their own hands calling for the president to resign. The depth of the frustration within the country is best expressed by one of the demonstrators who, speaking to the media at the demonstrations said that they are determined to do everything to get the president out of power. According to Reuben, if the president remains one more day in office, events will take a different turn; “we will cut the roads and burn everything, because we have nothing to lose”, a statement that captures the hopelessness that people are feeling. Even victims of the riots understandably recognize the level of poverty and desperation in the country.
The president’s response to the riots was perceived as disappointing if not naïve. He called on the rioters to go home, in a televised speech, when most political observers anticipated a leader who will come out and provide analysis of what transpired in the country including loss of lives. A more nuanced speech that recognizes the plight of the people would have been more appropriate. But the legislature is holding talks among the various political factions in parliament to determine follow up steps to address what has just happened. But some elected officials have called for the resignation of the Prime Minister who has been criticized for taking this drastic measure on the economy
Elsewhere, the Core group sent out a communique yesterday in which they express their concern over the violence and looting that has paralyzed economic activity and daily lives of the people. While they sent their condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic violence, they also recognize the people’s concern about the difficulties of daily life in the country as legitimate concerns but not justified by the level of violence and property damage. They decry the setbacks to progress made in recent years in terms of security and stability as well as the effect on nascent democracy taking root in the country.
Former Prime Minister Evans Paul thought the current government should not have taken this drastic economic measures at thus time but happy that it has been reversed. Mr. Paul used the occasion to call on all the parties to come together, taking this opportunity of the rioting and demonstrations as a way to have a genuine dialogue on the political and economic conditions in the country in the hope to find a lasting solution. While condemning the exaggerated violence that he thinks gives a bad image of the country, he called on the president to put in place an open and transparent government that will address the effective demands of the people, while avoiding confrontations.
While the fires are barely put out, the opposition may be gloating because one of their demands may have been met, in the person of the recently nominated Communications and Culture Minister, Guyler C. Delva, who took to tweeter to announce his resignation from the government. According to him, “The president has an extraordinary vision for this country and it is a great pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to work with him. However, I regret to announce that I will submit my resignation in the coming hours”. It was noted that President Moise criticized the Minister for the way the fuel increase was announced and handled while there is no consensus on the fate of the Prime Minister as of this writing. Guyler C. Delva was one of the five ministers in the current government that the opposition law makers are calling to be removed or investigated because their assets have not been officially declared to the tax authorities.
Finally, former President Michel Martelly and his family have been evacuated by helicopter to the Dominican Republic following the rioting that engulfed the country over the weekend.
In world cup news, France just booked their place in the finals by beating Belgium 1-0 in an exciting game. They now await the winner of the England-Croatia game to know who they will be facing this coming Sunday.