Haiti at a standstill as street clashes continue over demands for president’s ouster

Tensions escalated on the streets of Haiti’s capital as protesters on Monday again barricaded roads with burning tires, set a Port-au-Prince broadcast station’s vehicles ablaze, and chased down a presidential police backup unit they accused of firing on a crowd and killing a motorcycle driver.

Late Monday night, a well-known radio journalist, Rospide Pétion, was shot to death in Port-au-Prince., authorities confirmed. Pétion worked for Radio Sans Fin.

The journalist’s death, coming off the attack on the radio station, underscored the rising tensions in Haiti over the recent corruption scandal enveloping Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Several of the attacks in recent days have singled out journalists.

The director general of the ministry of communications, Calvin Cadet, called for protection of journalists in a tweet condemning the attack against Radio Télé Ginen and another reporter, Richardson Jourdan, who works for the state-owned Télévision Nationale d’Haïti. Jourdan was attacked on Friday.

Such acts, Cadet said, hurt freedom of the press.

Three of the individuals who allegedly set fire to vehicles belonging to Radio Télé Ginen were arrested by Haiti National Police, who also opened an internal probe into the death of the motorcyclist after the head of the presidential guards, Dimitri Hérard, was accused of firing the fatal shot at the intersection of Delmas and airport roads. After the incident, a crowd of motorcycle drivers followed the presidential police backup unit allegedly involved in the incident to Hérard’s home in Delmas 31 and surrounded it.

A police source said Hérard, who runs the General Security Unit of the National Palace, was not taken into custody. But the inspector general’s office of the Haiti National Police has launched an investigation to determine his involvement.

Hérard is the third Haiti National Police officer in 24 hours to come under investigation over allegations of using excessive force following protests that erupted Sunday over corruption and demands that Moïse step down from office over new corruption allegations. He was implicated in a government audit on the misuse of billions of dollars from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program.

On Sunday, Police Chief Michel-Ange Gédéon ordered an investigation into alleged police brutality after a video circulated on WhatsApp of an officer stoning a man on the ground with a rock while another officer looked on. Petionville Police Commissioner Paul Ménard, who had initially told the Miami Herald that the footage was old and not near the president’s Pelerin 5 residence, said Monday that he looked into the incident and found the video was, in fact, real.

“The person isn’t dead,” said Ménard, who only recently arrived at his post. “But still, the behavior of the police isn’t acceptable.”

Gédéon has ordered that the two officers be fired and jailed pending prosecution.

On Monday, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said, “I stand with the Haitian people as they call for justice and increased transparency to address corruption. I’m concerned by reports of violence and urge the country to engage in peaceful dialogue to address the population’s concerns.”

Those calling for Moïse’s removal have vowed to keep the pressure on until he resigns. While pockets of the capital resembled a ghost town due to a two-day public transportation strike called by the opposition, the country’s nominated Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin said it wasn’t on a lock-down. Private cars were still circulating, he said Monday, during a morning interview on Magik 9 radio station in Port-au-Prince.

Frantz Bernard Craan, the coordinator of the Private Sector Economic Forum and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Haiti Industry, continued to call for calm while telling Magik 9 on Monday morning that the president “has lost the confidence of all the population.”

Banks and most schools in the capital city remained closed Monday. Meanwhile, lawmakers were unable to gather for the scheduled final National Assembly session because staffers were unable to report for work due to roadblocks, burning tires and stone throwing in the area.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.