Thirty-three years after Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled into exile, ending his family’s 28-year dictatorship and ushering in Haiti’s democratic transition, Haitians marked the day Thursday with widespread protests throughout the country.
Angry over their plummeting currency, frustrated by the rising cost of living and disappointed by decades of failed leadership and rampant corruption, protesters threw rocks, burned tires, attacked police stations and blocked roads in major cities while calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who also marked his second anniversary in office Thursday.
Haiti National Police deputy spokesman Gary Desrosiers said police registered at least two deaths, 36 arrests and 14 injured cops — mainly from rocks — during the tension-filled day. It was Haiti’s third major anti-government protest in four months.
Unlike the Oct. 17 and Nov. 18 anti-corruption protests, however, where demonstrators demanded an accounting of $2 billion in allegedly misused money from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program, Thursday’s demonstrations mostly centered on the economic malaise that has been gripping the country and led to some bakeries and other stores shuttering their doors earlier in the week in disgust.
“The slogan has changed. It’s not ‘Where is the PetroCaribe money?’ but ‘Give me the PetroCaribe money,’ ” said Humelaire Julian, 28, a university student who was among the thousands who took to the streets in Port-au-Prince. “And for some of us youth, there is another slogan still: Nou Bouke,” meaning “We’re fed up.”
Julian, who wasn’t born during the dictatorship, said while democracy has brought freedom of expression and some individual liberties to Haitians, it has also brought misery.
“Those involved didn’t put things in place to have a democratic transition. You need to have a plan, you need to have a project,” he said. “Today, we are in the face of an explosion. Everyone agrees the country is being badly governed and at any moment, it can explode.”
That volatility was apparent in both the central Haitian city of Mirebalais and the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, where one person was killed. Police stations in both cities came under attack Thursday as angry protesters threw rocks and took on the police.
In Mirebalais, problems erupted early when a woman was killed by a truck driver. Blaming the police for the incident, a crowd carried the woman’s corpse to the police station and then tried to force themselves inside. The police, who by then had run out of tear gas, tried to calm the angry crowd by shooting in the air and even throwing their hands up, a reporter on the scene told Radio Mega listeners.
Specialized police units from Port-au-Prince and the nearby city of Hinche eventually arrived, but not before some protesters had set a parked car in front of the station ablaze and stolen the gun of an injured cop who fell to the ground after being hit in the head with a rock.
Haiti’s economy has been plummeting for quite sometime, and the country’s been in double-digit inflation since 2015. But in December, inflation soared to 15 percent and the gourde, the domestic currency, lost even more of its value against a strong U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, the budget deficit has grown to a record $89.6 million since October.