There were more deaths and injuries in Haiti on Friday as Haitians took to the streets in a second day of protests, and the mayors of two major cities announced the cancellation of pre-Carnival street parties for this weekend.
Sen. Youri Latortue, who represents the Artibonite region, said two people, including an 18-year-old protester, were killed and 10 others were injured in a protest in the city of Gonaives that degenerated as police opened fire to disperse the crowd. He accused police of killing the 18-year-old at the port.
But a police source refuted the claim, citing a video that showed the teen in a conflict with armed agents at the port and not Haiti National Police officers, who were not at the scene.
In addition to Gonaives, protests were also reported in the southern cities of Port Salut, Jacmel and Les Cayes. In Port-au-Prince, the U.S. embassy issued security alerts for certain areas, including roadblocks and protests around Aristide University in Tabarre and near a police station in Delmas. It also reportedly asked embassy employees, along with those employed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, to leave a Petionville hotel over security concerns.
Asked about the veracity of the report, a Department of State spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs noted the security alert issued for Friday and said: “We do not comment on personnel movements for reasons of security.”
With some schools remaining closed and many Haitians opting to stay home Friday, concerns are growing about the new wave of protests that are being fueled by Haitians’ frustrations over the rising costs of living and an economy in shambles. The mayors of Port-au-Prince and Petionville both confirmed to the Miami Herald that given the troubling situation, they were canceling Sunday’s Pre-Carnival street parties in their respective cities.
“The police are working non-stop, and with all of the trouble taking place right now I don’t think they can guarantee the security of the population. So we canceled,” Port-au-Prince Mayor Ralph Youri(cq) Chevry said.
The festivities usually draw thousands of revelers along with DJs and foot bands playing traditional Haitian Carnival tunes known as Rara in the walk-up to the pre-Lenten celebration.
“We are acting responsibly,” Petionville Mayor Dominique Saint-Roc said. “Given what’s developing in the country and how Feb. 7 unfolded yesterday with protests, I took the decision to cancel until the situation improves.”
Besides, Saint-Roc said, protesters appear to be “fixated” on his hilly city at the top of metropolitan Port-au-Prince. While home to the Jalousie slum, the city is also home to some of Haiti’s wealthy who drive $150,000 SUVs and other luxury vehicles.
Symbols of wealth, the vehicles have also become the targets of protesters’ frustrations. During Thursday’s countrywide protests, which marked 33 years since the fall of the country’s 28-year Duvalier family dictatorship and the two-year anniversary since President Jovenel Moïse took office, protesters hurled rocks at vehicles and set others ablaze.
Haitians don’t usually postpone Kanaval, the merrymaking celebration that begins several days before Ash Wednesday in many Caribbean and Latin American countries. But with a domestic currency in free fall, inflation at 15 percent annually and a deficit of $89.6 million in the nation’s budget for this year, some have argued that Haiti cannot afford the $2.3 million officials have allocated for Carnival and the country’s embattled leaders should cancel the party all together.
“We can’t afford festivities,” tweeted the Haitian actress Gessica Geneus, who has become a vocal critic of the country’s mismanagement of nearly $2 billion from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program, and the population’s ongoing misery. “We simply don’t even have the money for it. What’s so complicated for them to accept?”
So far, the big party remains on. On Friday, following a meeting with rice importers to see how they can bring down the price of one of the main staples of the Haitian diet, President Moïse appealed to the country’s opposition to come “sit at one table so we can find a solution to the country’s problems.”
“We know that the country’s problems aren’t solely political. The country’s problems are social, economic and political,” he said. “We have to sit together and talk, so we can look each other in the eyes and put the country on the road to true change.”
Moïse’s calls for dialogue have for now been ignored by the opposition, which has called for his resignation.