Protests Erupt in Port-au-Prince to Demand Haitian President's Resignation
|thenorthstar||Jun 14, 2019|
Thousands of Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on June 9 to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse over allegations of corruption. The president’s ousting has been the focus of months of protest.
Protestors, led by demonstrators on motorcycles, flooded the capital’s city center and built barricades of burning tires, Al Jazeera reported. Opposition parties and civil society groups organized the rallies after government auditors uncovered additional evidence of large-scale corruption. Moïse has faced increasing challenges to his authority over the past year. In February, Moïse was called to resign after he failed to investigate allegations of corruption in the previous government over the Venezuelan subsidized energy program PetroCaribe. Haitian officials have been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the development fund that aimed to help low-income Haitians, NPR reported.
Venezuela provides countries with oil under the PetroCaribe program and defers payments over 25 years at an interest rate as low as 1 percent, The Miami Herald reported. Haiti was set to use the savings from paying for the oil to invest in roads, hospitals, and other social programs intended to help the poor.However, the money never reached Haiti’s poorest citizens, instead enriching those in power. In a more than 600-page report, a panel of Haitian government auditors found that Moïse received millions of dollars that had been earmarked for rehabilitation projects.
The program has since ended due to the political and economic turmoil affecting Venezuela. Haiti continues to owe the oil-rich South American country nearly $2 billion. Haitian government officials have been accused by two anti-corruption commissions in the Haitian Senate of stealing that money.
Government auditors found that at least $1 million was used to pay for road repairs in northern Haiti twice. The public works ministry issued the same contract to two firms, which shared the same tax identification number, government patent, technical staff, and project resume in late 2014.
However, the auditors noted that Moïse, who was a relatively unknown businessman at the time, was listed as the head of one of the firms named Agritrans. While Betexs, the other firm, listed someone else. Two months before signing a contract with the ministry of public works, Agritrans received a 66 percent advance on the project, amounting to $419,240, The Miami Herald reported.
“For the court, giving a second contract for the same project… is nothing less than a scheme to embezzle funds,” auditors said about the project. Moïse, who was elected president in 2016, denied allegations of embezzlement and corruption. When protests ramped up in February, Moïse proclaimed he “will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers,” NPR reported.
During Sunday’s protests, marchers again called for Moïse to leave office and turn himself in to authorities. “We demand that all those squandering (public) funds be tried and punished, their assets seized and turned over to the state for serious development projects, and that the president resign and turn himself in,” said Velina Charlier, a protest leader, according to Al Jazeera. Opposition leaders, who contested Moïse’s election, urged supporters to peacefully protest. Several journalists were reportedly attacked during the recent protest, with at least one reporter killed. Radio Sans Fin journalist Rospide Pétion was shot dead by an unidentified gunman, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The circumstances of Pétion’s death were unclear, but the 45-year-old had reportedly just finished a radio program during which he spoke about the corruption allegations against Moïse’s government. In a statement on June 11, Moïse called Pétion’s killing a “heinous act.”
“I vehemently condemn this villainous crime,” the president said. He also condemned attacks on local media. According to the AP, several journalists have been attacked during street protests, with some protestoers accusing media outlets of being in favor of the government. Haitian media organizations released a statement calling for an end to the attacks on reporters. “The press is for everyone. To inform everyone. In all kinds of situations,” the organizations said.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.