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Old 14-02-19, 20:29   #1
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Angry Haiti's Missing Billions >People Short of Food and Drinking Water

Haiti's Missing Billions

A week of violent anti-corruption protests in Haiti has left residents short of food, fuel and drinking water as the government of President Jovenel Moise struggles to restore order.

CBC, 14 FEB 2019.

Local media reports that at least two demonstrators were killed and as many as 20 wounded by police gunfire yesterday, during the seventh straight day of clashes.

Several main streets in the capital of Port-au-Prince were blockaded with burning tires as thousands marched on the Presidential palace, throwing stones at security forces, and receiving volleys of teargas and bullets in return. Protestors also set fire to the Court of First Instance and prosecutor's office.

Banks, gas stations, and Moise's personal residence in the wealthy neighbourhood of Pétion-Ville have all come under attack in recent days.

Widespread looting has seen many stores shut, and those that remain open are running short of foodstuffs. Drinking water is also in short supply, as local authorities have been unable to refuel the city's pumping stations.

Yesterday, a group of armed men wearing masks set fire to vehicles and a mobile broadcasting truck belonging to TNH, Haiti's national television network.

And at least 78 inmates staged a mass jailbreak from a prison in Aquin, 150 kilometres southwest of the capital, while their guards were occupied with a nearby anti-government demonstration.

Haitian Police confront protestors outside the National Palace in Port-au-Prince yesterday. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

The protests are just the latest in a series of angry eruptions that have been going on since last fall, focused on the fate of almost $4 billion US in aid money.

The Petrocaribe program, instituted by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2005, saw Haiti and other Caribbean nations pay a fraction of the market price for billions of dollars worth of oil, with the balance-owed spread over 25 years at low interest. The idea was that governments would then be able to spend significant funds on development.

But no one is quite sure what happened to Haiti's windfall.

The Haitian Senate produced reports in 2016 and 2017 alleging that nearly $2 billion of the money, which was intended for infrastructure and economic development projects, was embezzled or misappropriated.

The probes implicated 14 senior members of the government of former President Michel Martelly in the alleged fraud, but to date no one has been charged.

And Moise, who succeeded Martelly as leader of the Tčt Kale [Baldhead] party, is perceived to be doing little to advance the investigation.

The protests have been spurred by the viral "Kot Kob Petwo Karibe a?" [where is the PetroCaribe money] campaign, with Haitians from all walks of life taking to social media and demanding to know where the money went.

Haiti is still struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed upwards of 100,000 people, and the after-effects of 2016's Hurricane Matthew. It remains one of the world's poorest nations, with more than six million of its 10.5 million citizens living on less than $3.15 a day, amidst skyrocketing inflation.

It is also a spectacularly kleptocratic culture, tied with Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Turkmenistan in the latest global corruption perceptions index, all ranked in 161st place out of 180 nations. And political violence is a fact of life, with factions using their own militias to carry out attacks and massacres.

Moise, who barely eked out a victory in the disputed 2016 general election, has so far remained silent on the week of protests.

But yesterday, his government suddenly replaced its ambassadors to the UN, the United States and Mexico, while its representative in France resigned.

Several hundred tourists, including Canadians from Quebec and New Brunswick, remain stranded by the violence. Scheduled flights continue, but roads to the airport have been blocked.

Canada is among the countries that have closed their Port-au-Prince embassies as a precaution, although diplomatic staff and families remain in place for the moment.

And Canadians are now being warned to avoid all non-essential travel to the country.


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