The news blackout came at the start of one of Haiti’s most popular afternoon newscasts.
“Radio Kiskeya and the 4 p.m. Journal are temporarily off the air in the metropolitan area due to the current fuel shortage (particularly diesel) which affects our relay facilities in Boutilliers,” the Monday tweet said. “We are working to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”
The radio newscast — which eventually made it back on air — was the latest casualty in Haiti’s ongoing energy woes. For weeks entire neighborhoods have been once again plunged into darkness and in recent days the distress has grown even more severe amid a string of energy-related crises.
There is the government’s ongoing contract dispute with the French consortium, Alstom-Comelex (GE), and its German supervisor over two 18 megawatt turbines at the country’s principal 54 megawatt Péligre hydroelectric power plant. The turbines aren’t functional despite a $100 million restoration project. There are the damaged engines at four government-owned electricity plants, including at Varreux, which the Haitian state took over in October from private power provider Sogener.
And there is the two-week old strike by workers at the state-run Electricité d’Haïti, EDH, over the naming of a new director, that has led to some areas of metropolitan Port-au-Prince receiving more electricity than others because no one can get to the barricaded circuits to switch the power off and on from one zone of the capital to the next.
If all of that weren’t bad enough, now a fuel shortage is aggravating an already bad electricity situation as telecom companies, vendors of potable water and ice ration reserves and factories temporarily cease operations because they have no diesel to run generators.
“We just don’t have diesel,” said David Turnier, president of the National Association of Petroleum Distributors, which represents gas stations around Haiti.
Last week, as consumers struggled to fill up and stations began reporting they were out of diesel, Haiti Commerce Minister Jonas Coffy took to the streets, escorted by police and a judge, to go check pumps.
He later confirmed to the daily Le Nouvelliste that two people were arrested during his visit, including a gas station supervisor who said her stocked diesel wasn’t for sale but to operate the generator and the station’s propane kiosk. The station’s owner, he said, was “engaged in illegal speculation and the black market.”
Protesting the arrest, Turnier told the Nouvelliste’s journalists during an appearance on its Magik9 radio program that it was common for some stations to have stored diesel to run generators and there was indeed a fuel shortage across Haiti.
He did not know, Turnier said, when a ship would arrive with a fresh delivery.
Late Tuesday, Coffy told the Miami Herald that his statements last week concerning the issue “corresponded to the truth of the day.”
“In fact, following my intervention, most of the distribution stations that I inspected have restarted selling diesel,” he said.
While the director of Haiti’s main public hospital said she recently received a supply of diesel from the health ministry to keep the General Hospital’s generators running, others have not been as fortunate.
“Dire situation,” said Dr. Ronald Laroche, who operates DASH, a network of private hospitals in Haiti.
“With no diesel, we cannot have lights and electricity. We cannot have water either. No toilets. No washing of hands,” he said. “The diesel we have left is kept for the operating rooms exclusively.“
Laroche said hospital staff has had to place buckets of water throughout its DASH medical facilities to allow services to continue.
“Thanks to solar panels in the eight hospitals and 20 medical centers that DASH operates, basic services are maintained, but this is not the way how things should function.“
Haiti’s lucrative fuel import market is a $700 million to $900 million business, and the latest fuel disruption comes after a year and three months of steady and orderly imports of gasoline, diesel and kerosene following the government’s decision to reluctantly hand over petroleum imports to the private sector in March 2019.
Without any explanation, and despite the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund to get rid of its monopoly, the government took back control of fuel importation earlier this year and handed it over to the state’s Bureau of Monetization of Programs and Development Aid. The controversial agency, known as BMPAD, has been the country’s monopoly importer of petroleum products ever since Haiti entered into the Petrocaribe oil program with Venezuela. continue reading