Haitians seek wa­ter, food as busi­nesses reopen af­ter protest

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! - (AP)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Busi­nesses and gov­ern­ment of­fices slowly re­opened across Haiti on Mon­day af­ter more than a week of vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions by hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­test­ers de­mand­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moise over sky­rock­et­ing prices that have more than dou­bled for ba­sic goods amid al­le­ga­tions of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion.

Pub­lic trans­porta­tion re­sumed in the cap­i­tal, Por­tau-Prince, where peo­ple be­gan lin­ing up to buy food, wa­ter and gaso­line as crews cleared streets of bar­ri­cades thrown up dur­ing the protests.

Moise has re­fused to step down, though his prime min­is­ter, Jean-Henry Ceant, said over the week­end that he has agreed to re­duce cer­tain gov­ern­ment bud­gets by 30 per­cent, limit travel of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and re­move all non-es­sen­tial priv­i­leges they en­joy, in­clud­ing phone cards. Ceant also vowed to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged mis­spending tied to a Venezue­lan pro­gram that pro­vided Haiti with sub­si­dized oil and said he has re­quested that a court au­dit all state-owned en­ter­prises. He also said he would in­crease the min­i­mum wage and lower the prices of ba­sic goods, although he did not pro­vide specifics.

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 moto taxi driver who was wait­ing for cus­tomers. He re­cently had to buy a gal­lon of gas for 500 gour­des ($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 $18 and a can of dry beans around $7. In ad­di­tion, a gal­lon of cook­ing oil has gone up to nearly $11 from $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 $2 a day. A re­cent re­port by the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment said about half the coun­try is un­der­nour­ished.

Dozens of peo­ple on Mon­day stood out­side a fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany wait­ing to pick up money trans­fers from rel­a­tives abroad. Among them was 35-yearold An­dre Si­mon, a taxi driver who had been stand­ing in line for at least three hours and has been un­able to work for more than a week.

“I don’t have any­thing at home,” said Si­mon, who drives a small, brightly col­ored truck known as a tap­tap. “I need that money badly.”

The lat­est vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions prompted the U.S. 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 sub­si­dized oil pro­gram, 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 pro­gram.

“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.”

She said she doesn’t be­lieve claims that op­po­si­tion lead­ers are be­hind the demon­stra­tions or that peo­ple are be­ing paid to protest as has hap­pened in pre­vi­ous years given the in­cred­i­ble num­ber of peo­ple that have taken to the streets in re­cent days. How­ever, Kolbe warned that even if Moise were forced to step down, it would not re­solve one of Haiti’s un­der­ly­ing is­sues: how to ad­dress cor­rup­tion.

“Peo­ple are just kind of ex­hausted with the busi­ness elite run­ning the coun­try and re­tain­ing con­trol and not know­ing where pub­lic funds are go­ing,” she said.

Martelly hand-picked Moise in 2015 to be the can­di­date for the rul­ing Tet Kale party even though the busi­ness­man from north­ern Haiti had never run for of­fice. Moise was sworn in as pres­i­dent in Fe­bru­ary 2017 for a five-year term and promised to fight cor­rup­tion and bring in­vest­ment and jobs to one of the least de­vel­oped na­tions in the world. His swear­ing-in marked Haiti’s re­turn to con­sti­tu­tional rule a year af­ter Martelly left of­fice with­out an elected suc­ces­sor amid waves of op­po­si­tion protests and a po­lit­i­cal stale­mate that led to sus­pended elec­tions.

Moise’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­vi­ously set off deadly protests in July when of­fi­cials abruptly an­nounced dou­bledigit in­creases in the prices for gaso­line, diesel and kerosene as part of an agree­ment with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund to elim­i­nate fuel sub­si­dies and boost gov­ern­ment rev­enue. At least seven peo­ple died in those protests, which also forced Prime Min­is­ter Jack Guy La­fontant to re­sign af­ter fac­ing a no-con­fi­dence vote in par­lia­ment.

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