By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Last week violence unseen in more than a decade erupted Port-au-Prince, the capital and other cities across the nation.
The first and obvious explanation for the violence is that a steep government mandated rise in the price of oil and transportation was the spark that created this explosion. While I agree that increase was what ignited this violence, to focus on it as the sole reason left the government off the hook.
The Haitian government announced that fuel prices would be increased by 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel, 51 percent for kerosene and new fares for public transportation, with some routes going up as much as 50 percent.
If anyone think this news would be taken in stride anywhere, let alone in a desperately poor country like Haiti, has bought into the false notion that the Haitian people are resilient and will accept anything.
At the same time, it’s clear that the violence was not random. It was a well calculated plan that appears to be spontaneous. The properties that were attacked were clearly those belonging to the wealthy entrepreneurs who publicly back Jovenel Moise. Of course, there were collateral damages but the hidden hand behind this knows quite well what’s going on.
The government has shown that it is tone deaf, incompetent and in dereliction of duty. To calm tensions, the government announced that it would rescind its decision and president Jovenel Moise went on television late Saturday night to talk to the nation. His delivery angered people even more and was a fiasco. Instead of appearing presidential and confident, he seemed timid and afraid. Tensions remain high and even when the streets returned to a semblance of normalcy, it’s temporary. We should brace yourself for more of this unfortunately.
Last week unrest was long in the making. Facing serious financial crisis, International Money Fund (IMF) officials convinced Haitian government leaders that they should implement the price increases along with other austerity measures.The move, which is part of a “staff-monitored program, would give the president access to $96 million in much-needed aid.
But they were not told to shove it down people’s throat rather they were advised to do the increase in increments. Everyone knows that the country is economically challenged and that at times tough measures have to be taken. In this age of instant communication, you cannot rule without transparency because if you do, people will fill in the blanks for you, to your detriment.
This situation has laid bare the endemic corruption that is destabilizing the country even more. While the government imposes the burden of fixing the economy on the poor, politicians flaunt their wealth in front of the masses. Moise’s erstwhile predecessor, the late Rene Preval negotiated a sweetheart deal with Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. Under the terms of the agreement Haiti and other Caribbean nations received heavily subsidized oil from Venezuela as well as $1 billion in low-interest loan. After Chavez’s death, the Venezuelan economy went into a tailspin and the country has faced severe economic and social unrests. The current Venezuelan government cancelled the oil delivery.
So now, Haiti is left to buy oil in the open market at competitive prices. With Haiti deemed a credit risk around the world, vendors demand cash upfront for their oil and the increases were necessary to raise the needed liquidity for the government to buy oil.
Even more insidious is that most of the billion dollars loan has been pilfered and no one can explain clearly what happened to the money. Remember this is a loan not a gift. The Haitian people is on the hook for a money stolen by unscrupulous people.
I was in Haiti two weeks ago and I heard rumblings that things were going to fall apart after the World Cup. The day the violence began was the day Brazil was eliminated from the tournament. In Haiti, people worship Brazilian soccer and for the majority of folks, that was the end of their world cup and they took to the streets.
So far, the government has not put a price tag on the damage, but most people estimate the losses into the thousands of millions of dollars. A friend of mine described the situation, “I went through the worse experience of my life yesterday, but am home safe. Thank you.”
Jerry Tardieu, Petion Ville’s congressman, has called for the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant to resign. It’s a fair request and Lafontant should tender his resignation soon.
It is clear that this administration has lost its grip on the nation. The police did precious little to put down the violence, many of whom have not been paid recently and sympathize with the vandals and looters.
Moise finds himself in a pickle. He came to power with no base and was the handpicked candidate of his predecessor, Michel Martelly. These problems Jovenel is facing now are a direct result of the grift and shenanigans he inherited from his political patron, Martelly.
For five years, Martelly and his administration engaged in an intense public relations campaign taking credits for every building that went up in the country. A private hotel. An airport in Cap Haitien. The repair of Toussaint L’Ouverture international airport. Roads.
All of these projects were underway long before Martelly began his quixotic and improbable run. I would have countless debate with people in Haiti and here to make them understand that in no country in the world the bureaucracy works so efficiently that in less than a year in power the government can achieve such things.
Their answer was often that no other president has done so and Martelly was brilliant. I left it at that, adding that only time will tell. The reality is that Martelly is responsible for the current pogrom that Haiti faces.
Jovenel inherited nothing from him but headaches. They are now his and his alone to fix. This worries me because he looks incapable of rising to the occasion. He has shunned the advice of his loyalists and is freelancing. For instance, at this Saturday evening news conference, he followed none of the advice given to him on how to address the nation. Instead, he angered people even more.
Even as a veteran used to cover coups and unrest in Haiti, I have not seen such violence and destruction of property. This comes after a controversial occupation by the United Nations force, known by its French acronym as MINUSTAH. Now there are fears from all sectors of the country that another occupation is imminent.
As the people were chanting during their march of violence, “Jovenel the ball is on your court, play it.”