Protests over corruption and misappropriation of government funds have erupted in the small island nation of Haiti, with many protesters calling for the resignation of the nation’s president, Jovenel Moïse.
Haiti, a nation in the Caribbean that shares an island with the Dominican Republic, is yet another country where the government is seeing an onslaught of democratic protests. Thousands marched through Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, in protest of allegations that the current president, and members of his administration, have embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from an oil program with Venezuela. The funds were meant to finance social programs, infrastructure, and to combat the nation’s outbreak of cholera.
In 2010, Haiti faced a devastating earthquake where over 200,000 were killed and the nation’s infrastructure was ruined. Already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and facing an outbreak of cholera, as well as infamous for government corruption, Haiti faced a difficult challenge to rehabilitate itself. However, in 2005 an oil agreement with ally Venezuela provided the country with the opportunity to create funds to combat their myriad of crises.
Time magazine reports that in 2005, Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez set up the PetroCaribe deal with Haiti and 17 other Caribbean nations. In the agreement, the nations were allowed to purchase oil from Venezuela’s countless reserves, and were able to defer payments for up to 25 years, charged at extremely low interest rates. These Caribbeans nations would then sell the oil to other parties and use the money saved in the transaction to finance social programs, rebuild infrastructure, and combat public health issues. However, the article in Time magazine states that the deal began to suffer in 2014, following Venezuela’s economic collapse. In 2018 Venezuela stopped fulfilling its PetroCaribe commitments to Haiti, which has created an oil crisis for the small nation.
In November of 2017, a five person team in Haiti’s senate began investigating allegations of misappropriation of funds, when profits being brought in through PetroCaribe were not made visible in infrastructure or public health improvements. The investigation team reported evidence of widespread corruption and misappropriation of the funds under three consecutive governments, with huge amounts of money missing. According to a New York Times article on the matter, the senate team found that at least $2 billion (the equivalent of almost a quarter of Haiti’s economy in 2017) went missing, and the nation still owes Venezuela billions for the oil. Their findings stated that the amount of money in government coffers was misrepresented, exchange rates were adjusted, and more than half the contracts given to companies to rebuild infrastructure did not go through the usual government processes. There was also little oversight because the money was not coming from standard international aid packages.
Protests sparked in summer 2018 when inflation rates spiked out of control and the government announced plans to raise fuel prices. Protesters have dubbed themselves PetroChallengers with hashtags #KotKobPetwoKaribea (Where is the PetroCaribe money?) and #PwosePetroCaribea (Prosecute those involved in PetroCaribe). Protesters are also demanding the resignation of those implicated, including current president Jovenel Moïse. Before the president came to office he was the head of the company Agritrans, a company that was paid $700,000 to repair roads, which some found strange considering their job is to grow bananas. Moïise has denied any wrongdoing and refused calls to step down, stating on Twitter “I’m looking you in the eye today to say: your president, whom you voted for, is not guilty of corruption.” He added that those who are guilty should be “brought to justice in a fair, equitable trial without political prosecution.”
By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern