After a midweek lull last week, the strike action to protest the high cost of living and the fuel shortage continues unabatedly, this was the case in Jérémie yesterday and today when calls for the resignation of the interim prime minister grew louder. The increasing cost of necessities, and the inability of vast portions of the population to make ends meet has become a daunting task. Numerous stores refuse to accept payment in dollars; thus all purchases are is paid in gourdes, and it appears that this has been a welcome event for those receiving salaries in gourdes, but the prices have been revised upwards making it still unaffordable to many. Many people are now convinced that the state and the business class have colluded to fool them. The inexplicable fuel shortage resulted in the thriving black market for fuel where the price rose to 3750 gourdes for a gallon of petrol, that would normally sell for 250 gourdes. A bag of rice now sells at 3250 gourdes while a motorcycle tax ride is now 100 gourdes. Protesters against those outrageous prices increases barricaded roads with containers and burning tires, paralyzing commercial activity in the city.
Protesters in Miragoâne, the capital of the Nippes Department were blocked by the police who refused to allow them to take to the major streets of the city to denounce the crises facing the country. Having started their march at Carrefour Lacroix, and prevented by the police to head downtown, they diverted the route to head to Chalon passing through Carrefour Desruisseaux. At Chalon, protesters tried again to head downtown but the police who had camped near the courthouse used tear gas to disperse the crowd of people who raised their hands in the air. Panic ensued, causing some protesters to go back home or find other ways to continue to Berquin, where again, the police were able to force the demonstrations to abandon their plans. The usage of the tear gas did not sit well with residents who concluded that the police are not on their side to protect them but rather with the Prime Minister and his cronies to oppress the people. One such criticism came from Professor Wilfince Mombrun, who himself was a victim of tear gas, who stated that the police are able to prove that they are with the arm of the state apparatus fueling the insecurity and kidnappings in the country, and because of the presence of gang members and corrupt individuals in the police force, police operations have a hard time succeeding. In Petit-Goâve, one demonstrator died after police threw tear gas into the crowds and the victim who was asthmatic died of shortness of breath. More than four (4) additional people were said to have been also injured.
Beyond the demonstrations and police brutal repression of peaceful demonstrators, the number of people living with food insecurity has increased by one million people last month, from 4.6m to 5.6 million, according to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson. Ms. Richardson stated that the latest crisis in the country is symptomatic of other structural problems such as the economy, governance, impunity, and corruption. While responding to the immediate humanitarian emergencies affecting the lives of the people, there needs to be a link built between this humanitarian response, the protection of human rights, sustainable development, and the maintenance of peace. Ms. Richardson noted that Haiti shouldn’t have to suffer food insecurity because it was once self-sufficient in rice production and what is needed is to find a way to partner with the private sector to find sustainable and durable solutions. With regards to the UN emergency appeals fund to Haiti, which is far below target, the Representative intimated that this is in no way a sign of donor fatigue, but a result of the complex global situation made even more complicated geopolitically and economically by the war in Ukraine which further leads to global inflation, rising cost of fuel and practically everything else. She assured that the US5m assistance to allow humanitarian assistance work in Cité Soleil, which began at least three weeks ago will continue.
Meanwhile, a group of business leaders coming together under the umbrella organization of Haitian Employers Association, Regroupement patronal haïtien have penned an open letter to the country’s leaders to implore them to come up with a lasting solution to the crisis that seems to know no end. In two separate press releases within a week, the business leaders noted that the country is bankrupt and call for the commitment of all to rectify the situation. They argue that the times are crucial and demands for state actors to put the national interest above personal and partisan considerations to resolve the various pressing issues facing the nation. They implore leaders to stop bringing up issues that have caused the same disagreements and lead to the same failures, because none of the current parties in the conflict has the legality or the legitimacy to impose their ideas. The group made three (3) distinct appeals to the government. The first is for the government to scrupulously respect their fiscal and legal responsibilities and observe sound business practices, transparency and fair competition and the abandonment of unhealthy behavior that is detrimental to the community. The second is to mobilize resources for the National Police of Haiti (PNH) so that it can effectively fulfill its role of maintaining order and to eradicate the growing gangsterization of the country, which affects the free movement of persons and goods throughout the territory. Finally, they launched a patriotic appeal to all political leaders to transcend their individual and group interests by making the sacrifices that are necessary to agree on a fair and transparent solution to the current political impasse. These business leaders have been supported by their counterparts in the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Finally, the Ministry of Education has postponed the return to school from September 5, 2022, to October 3, 2022, in order to respond to calls by parents’ associations and teacher’s unions, not to rush the return to school until measures are put in place to ensure a smooth school year. The Minister confirmed that after several discussions with directors of private schools in Port-au-Prince and in provincial towns, reluctantly, the start of the school year was reconsidered on condition that the projects in terms of school furniture, textbooks, subsidies for parents be accelerated for a return to school, in better conditions, on October 3. Noting that there are people circulating return dates online that are not true, the ministry said it will soon publish a calendar to make it official the return to school date. Furthermore, 1,250 public and private schools were not in good shape after the earthquake which severely hit the southern peninsula on August 14, 2021. The minister, Nesmy Manigat, does not hide the difficulties faced by the areas affected by the earthquake a year later, noting that it’s a very delicate issue which is progressing very slowly. Whether on the part of the government or donors, there is a delay, and construction did not start on time. The National Education Fund has just launched its operations and some dozen contracts are ready to be signed, while already, some forty new constructions of permanent or semi-permanent school buildings have been completed in the areas affected by the earthquake. In regard to the recovery of schools in the Deep South, the Minister announces for this week a meeting with representatives of the sectoral group on education in Haiti and representatives of NGOs working in the field to take an inventory of needs in the area.