Venezuela crisis at issue in Haiti unrest

Thousands of Haitians filled the streets of Port-au-Prince and several provincial cities to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise on Feb, 7—anniversary of the 1986 ouster of long-ruling dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Demonstrators also called for the arrest of officials responsible for the plundering of monies from the Venezuela-provided PetroCaribe fund over the past 10 years. At least two were reported dead in the protests, with vehicles burned, a police station attacked, some 40 arrested, and many wounded, including 14 police officers.  Haiti faces a fast-deepening crisis, with hunger, unemployment and inflation all growing. The cost of food and other necessities is increasing daily as the national currency depreciates. In 1986, the gourde was fixed at five to one dollar. Now 83 gourdes buys a dollar, up from 65 when Jovenel Moïse came to power two years ago. (Haiti Liberté)

Protests first broke out in October over the disappearance of funds from PetroCaribe, a project of Latin America's Venezuela-led alternative integration that makes oil available to member states on favorable terms, freeing funds for local development. But Haiti has been saddled with debt for the oil provided through the program since joining in 2006. Meanwhile, $2 billion made available through the program for infrastructure and earthquake reconstruction was apparently siphoned off by corrupt officials. An investigation into the matter is pending. Unlike during last year's "Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a?" (Where is the PetroCaribe money?) movement, Moise's ouster has now emerged as a demand. (Miami Herald, Haiti Libre)

Protesters are additionally angered by the government's vote with the US in the OAS not to recognize the presidency of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro. On Jan. 10, as Maduro was inaugurated and the Organization of American States voted to deny him recognition, Haiti for the first time voted with Washington and against Caracas—which has provided Haiti with some $4 billion in oil under the PetroCaribe accord. The resolution "to not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro's new term" was approved with 19 votes in favor (Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, United States, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Saint Lucia); six against (Bolivia, Dominica, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Venezuela); eight abstentions (Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, and El Salvador); and one absent (Grenada). (Haiti Liberté)

Photo: Haiti Liberté