Demonstrators are filling the streets of downtown Port au Prince in Haiti as anger and frustration over government mismanagement, corruption and grinding poverty boils over.
Protestors are now demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise over the disappearance of nearly $2 billion for a program earmarked for the poor.
The Venezuelan PetroCaribe Discount Oil program provided cheap petroleum products and generous credit terms to Central American and Caribbean nations, throwing them an economic life-line when oil was selling for $100 per barrel.
But instead of paying for hospitals, schools, roads, and other social projects, the money was mostly diverted into other projects, according to a January report from Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors.
As demonstrators chanted: “Kot kòb PetroCaribe a?” – “Where’s the PetroCaribe money?”, the President and Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant, in an address to the nation, promised to conduct a full investigation into the missing funds.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, according to Kim Ives, writing for Haiti Liberte, was the apparent treachery of President Moïse against the Venezuelans after their display of solidarity. On Jan. 10, 2019, in a vote at the Organization of American States (OAS), Haiti voted in favor of a Washington-sponsored motion to say that Nicolas Maduro was “illegitimate,” despite winning an election in May 2018 with over two-thirds of the vote.
“Today’s revolution shows all signs of being as profound and unstoppable as that of 33 years ago against playboy dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier,” Ives wrote. Duvalier escaped from Haiti on Feb. 7, 1986 to exile in France on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane. It was the beginning of five years of popular tumult.
The spreading unrest, now in its second week, is beginning to take a humanitarian toll as protesters clash with police, stone ambulances and erect roadblocks shutting off major highways and roads. Canada has advised citizens to avoid all travel to Haiti and the U.S. State Department raised the travel warning to a level 4, telling U.S. citizens: “Do not travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest.” The Department of State also ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members.
“We are living in misery and hunger,” Harold Lazard, 43, a chemistry professor, said in a media interview. The population wants the president to go, “so there can be change, there can be another system, one where we have hospitals that function, healthcare, education, security. With this system we have here the poor are dying of hunger with only dirt to eat.
“It’s not the opposition who closed the country but the population,” he said. “It’s the population that has decided it no longer wants to live in hunger, in misery.”
Ives added: “Ironically, it was Venezuelan solidarity which may have postponed for a decade the political hurricane now engulfing Haiti.”
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.