It has been nearly two weeks since the people of Haiti took to the streets to demand an end to socio-economic deprivation and corruption scandals.

For nearly two weeks protesters in Haiti have been demanding that President Jovenel Moise resigns over skyrocketing prices that have more than doubled for basic goods, allegations of corruption, and double-digit inflation. 

But when Moise broke his silence, a week after the protests began, he chose to pour fuel on the fire instead of cooling down the protesters. 

Moise said during a televised address late on Thursday: "[I] will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers." 

Even though Moise refused to step down, Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant said over the weekend that he has agreed to reduce specific government budgets by 30 percent, limit the travel of government officials and remove all non-essential privileges they enjoy, including phone cards.

"The government is making statements that are not changing anything at this point," said Hector Jean, a moto-taxi driver, said he recently had to buy a gallon of gas for 500 gourdes ($6), more than twice what he normally pays.  

"It's very hard to bring something home," he said. "I have three kids."

People gather while waiting to buy gas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 16, 2019.
People gather while waiting to buy gas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 16, 2019. (Reuters)

Other goods have also doubled in price in recent weeks: A sack of rice now costs $18 and a can of dry beans around $7. Also, a gallon of cooking oil has gone up to nearly $11 from $7.

Referred to as ‘Banana Man’, prominent entrepreneur Moise burst onto the political stage with the populist message of restoring the impoverished Caribbean country, the world’s first ‘black nation’ after the successful rebellion of slaves against French colonialism in 1804. 

But his famous promise “food on every plate and money in every pocket” has not materialised since he became president in 2017. 

"A government that cannot give its people nourishment and water must step down," said Prophete Hilaire, a young protester who was marching in the capital city Port-au-Prince. 

A demonstrator holds a sign that says,
A demonstrator holds a sign that says, "I'm hungry, I need food", during a march through the streets of Port-au-Prince, on February 7, 2019. (AFP)

Since it became independent two hundred years ago, Haiti has not been able to thrive economically. While recovering from the wounds of brutal colonisation the country became caught in the colonial rivalry between Western powers in the Caribbean.

Then throughout the 20th Century, Haiti suffered a succession of brutal dictatorships interrupted only by brief stints of democracy and foreign occupation.

Set against this background, Moise promised to fight corruption and bring more investment jobs, but just after two years, his presidency sits on a powder keg. 

Protests have grown since a sporadic movement began last summer over a scandal linked to a Venezuelan aid programme known as Petrocaribe. 

Through Petrocaribe, Venezuela for years supplied Haiti and other countries with oil at cut-rate prices and on easy credit terms.
Investigations by the Haitian Senate in 2016 and 2017 concluded that nearly $2 billion from the programme was misused. 

But it’s the people of Haiti pay the price for the misuse of state revenues. 

Almost 60 percent of the country’s nearly 11 million people are living below the national poverty line of $2 a day. The impoverished Caribbean nation is one of the least developed countries on the planet, ranking 168 out of 189 on the UNDP’s 2018 Human Development Index. 

A demonstrator gestures in front of burning tires on the fourth day of protests in Port-au-Prince, on February 10, 2019.
A demonstrator gestures in front of burning tires on the fourth day of protests in Port-au-Prince, on February 10, 2019. (AFP)

The county ironically has given an opportunity to everyone who has promised to fix the situation. 

Along with the current banana-exporter president, a Roman Catholic priest and a carnival singer were among the previous presidents tasked with freeing the country from chronic economic problems and poverty.
But Haitians are still trying to rid the nation of the uncertainty that blights their future. 

"He leads like an amateur, piling up promises he can never keep, and the result is what we see today, a popular revolt," said Marie-Yolene Gilles, director of a Haitian human rights organisation.

Protester Josue Louis-Jeune was banging a metal plate with a spoon during the demonstration in Port-au-Prince. He said: “For two years, Jovenel has promised to fill our plates. But I can't eat lies." 

He added: "This president is nothing more than a liar. He's got to go."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies