Thirty-three years after Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled into exile, ending his family’s 28-year dictatorship and ushering in Haiti’s democratic transition, Haitians marked the day Thursday with widespread protests throughout the country.
Angry over their plummeting currency, frustrated by the rising cost of living and disappointed by decades of failed leadership and rampant corruption, protesters threw rocks, burned tires, attacked police stations and blocked roads in major cities while calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who also marked his second anniversary in office Thursday.
Haiti National Police deputy spokesman Gary Desrosiers said police registered at least two deaths, 36 arrests and 14 injured cops — mainly from rocks — during the tension-filled day. It was Haiti’s third major anti-government protest in four months.
Unlike the Oct. 17 and Nov. 18 anti-corruption protests, however, where demonstrators demanded an accounting of $2 billion in allegedly misused money from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program, Thursday’s demonstrations mostly centered on the economic malaise that has been gripping the country and led to some bakeries and other stores shuttering their doors earlier in the week in disgust.
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“The slogan has changed. It’s not ‘Where is the PetroCaribe money?’ but ‘Give me the PetroCaribe money,’ ” said Humelaire Julian, 28, a university student who was among the thousands who took to the streets in Port-au-Prince. “And for some of us youth, there is another slogan still: Nou Bouke,” meaning “We’re fed up.”
Julian, who wasn’t born during the dictatorship, said while democracy has brought freedom of expression and some individual liberties to Haitians, it has also brought misery.
“Those involved didn’t put things in place to have a democratic transition. You need to have a plan, you need to have a project,” he said. “Today, we are in the face of an explosion. Everyone agrees the country is being badly governed and at any moment, it can explode.”
That volatility was apparent in both the central Haitian city of Mirebalais and the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, where one person was killed. Police stations in both cities came under attack Thursday as angry protesters threw rocks and took on the police.
In Mirebalais, problems erupted early when a woman was killed by a truck driver. Blaming the police for the incident, a crowd carried the woman’s corpse to the police station and then tried to force themselves inside. The police, who by then had run out of tear gas, tried to calm the angry crowd by shooting in the air and even throwing their hands up, a reporter on the scene told Radio Mega listeners.
Specialized police units from Port-au-Prince and the nearby city of Hinche eventually arrived, but not before some protesters had set a parked car in front of the station ablaze and stolen the gun of an injured cop who fell to the ground after being hit in the head with a rock.
Haiti’s economy has been plummeting for quite sometime, and the country’s been in double-digit inflation since 2015. But in December, inflation soared to 15 percent and the gourde, the domestic currency, lost even more of its value against a strong U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, the budget deficit has grown to a record $89.6 million since October.
On Tuesday, after declaring a state of economic emergency, the government unveiled 11 cost-cutting measures for ministers to curb government spending. Government spokesman Eddy Jackson Alexis said the measures, which include limiting travel and fuel, would save at least $12.7 million a month — enough to reduce the budget deficit.
Etzer Emile, a Port-au-Prince economist, said the fact that Thursday’s demonstrations called by the opposition drew so many protesters, who assembled at different points around the capital and weren’t led by any particular opposition leader, shows that the population isn’t convinced by the governments’ recent measures. They do not inspire confidence, he said.
“The economic crisis is exacerbated by the dollar’s uncertainty, and with the rising price of commodities, the authorities risk losing their political authority,” Emile, 33, added. “President Jovenel Moïse and his government, which lacks support, lacks inspiration, lacks financial resources are facing the worst economic crisis since the global food crisis of 2008.”
Even in a city like Port-de-Paix, where Moïse hails from — and a boat carrying at least 30 Haitian migrants to their deaths recently launched from before sinking in the waters off the Bahamas — frustrations are high.
“The situation is difficult. There is an economic malaise all over the country,” said Jean Wisnel Honores, a Port-de-Paix resident, who added that while there were no protests on Thursday it doesn’t mean there won’t be any in coming days. “Today, we can say what has led to this situation is the bad governance of Jovenel, who really didn’t have a plan.
“Today marks his two years in office. But this situation we are living here is the result of a lack of capacity, a lack of political will.”