Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s ordeal this past Sunday was the perfect metaphor for the state of affairs within the country in recent years. On a day to celebrate the memory of the assassination of the father of the nation, Jean-Jacques Dessalines who was killed on October 17, 1806 the Prime Minister made several missteps which made the celebration less memorable for him. It all started with his inability to make it to Pont-Rouge to lay a wreath at the tomb of the father of the nation. Pont-Rouge is a historical site abandoned and crumbling under tons of filth and thus became a beacon of criminal gangs who control the area. The interesting thing is that the area is located within walking distance from the headquarters of the security forces, Corps d’intervention et de maintien d’Ordre (CIMO), and the Road safety headquarters, la direction de la sécurité routière, and national police headquarters, l’Inspection générale de la PNH. Despite the presence of all these security apparatuses in the area, the gangs were able to control access to the area. The area has been a no-go area for the government since 2018 under assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, who was unable to tame the area during his regime.
On this fateful Sunday morning, with the Police Commissioner, Léon Charles, dressed in SWAT team fatigue, the Minister of the Interior and Justice, Liszt Quitel, the Minister of Defense, Enold Joseph, and other high ranking security personnel, the presidential contingent stopped at the CIMO headquarters in Delmas 2. They attempted to get through, but the gangs would not let them and after a tense standoff, the government had no choice but to retreat, fearing the exchange of firepower could become deadly in the neighborhood. The government was forced to retreat to the national pantheon museum as an alternate site for the prime minister to save face, but since there were no provisions for such a choice, they met a Pantheon that was closed, and the team could not gain access. The chain of unfortunate events continued when the Prime Minister could not make it to the thanksgiving mass and the Te Deum in Marchand-Dessalines. Unable to make it to Pont-Rouge, and the Pantheon unavailable, the Prime Minister ended up laying a wreath at l’Autel de la patrie , an abandoned and dirty place on the rue du Champ de Mars. The entire wreath laying ceremony and speech lasted less than 13 minutes, after security forces cleared the area for the officials to save face and make their speeches.
Meanwhile, videos circulating on social media, especially on whatsapp, show the gangs celebrating their victory in forcing the government forces to retreat. In one of the videos, there were government issued muscle cars with heavily armed police officers with their legs around their necks, while the G9 gang members defy the authorities and on the other video, there was Jimmy Chérizier, the notorious gang leader, appearing triumphant, accompanied by heavily armed individuals who were parading in the streets, all dressed in white, laying a wreath at the statue of Dessalines, the official place the government was prevented from doing the same.
In other news, heavily armed individuals kidnapped 17 American missionaries including their family members, last Saturday, on the road to Ganthier, a municipality, north of the capital Port-au-Prince. On the same day, a police officer in a patrol car who tried to intervene during another kidnapping attempt was shot and killed by criminal gangs on Avenue Christophe. Also, last Sunday, the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped about 10 Roman Catholic leaders and held them for ransom and released them only after the ransom had been paid. With this unexplainable insecurity, the streets of Port-au-Prince were empty on Monday following a call for a general strike by different professional groups to protest the state of affairs in the country, especially following the kidnapping of the 16 Americans and one Canadian. In an interview with the media, Méhu Changeux, leader of the transport owners and drivers’ union said it has been months since they have been calling for help and that they are not safe especially with the numerous kidnappings, and therefore asked the population to suspend all activities to protest the lack of security. Schools, businesses and government offices were closed on Monday .Mr. Changeux stated that the kidnapping of the Americans shows that no one is safe anymore in the country, and since they are tax paying citizens themselves, all they ask of the government is to protect them, so that the country can function.
Finally, during the launch of the 2021/22 budget, the Minister of Economy and Finance, Michel Patrick Boisvert observed that the state has lost more than 30billion gourdes during the previous year subsidizing petroleum products and is calling for the government to investigate what is increasingly becoming untenable, especially due to the increasing price of petroleum products on the international market. According to Mr. Patrick, the increasing rise in prices on the international market is sure to increase the subsidy above 30 billion gourdes in the coming year, prompting the government to find ways to get out of this situation. He also stated that the national coffers do not have the reserves to meet its obligations and that paying the fuel bill has been a headache for the government. According to the Minister, the government is always making efforts to supply fuel, by buying the fuel on the international market and give to companies, who then sell it and pay the government who then goes out to buy more fuel. The state is obliged to shell out the money and must wait to be repaid. They buy at a price that has appreciated on the international market, but the price remains the same in the country. As such, the state must find part of its taxes from the DGI, and the AGD to subsidize petroleum products. Other issues facing the sector are shortages caused by order delays and insecurity affecting the operations of oil terminals and oil product carriers.
The country’s storage capacity is 800,000 barrels of petroleum products (diesel, jet fuel and gasoline). Every 15 days or so, the state mobilizes just over US$40 million to supply just over 400,000 barrels, or half of the storage capacity. The state monopoly on petroleum imports has been a source of debate with certain actors in favor of the state getting out of this altogether and allow the free market to dictate the supply and demand, while the state spend its efforts on collecting taxes. For several months, only a single supplier has been supplying the market.