'We have nothing else to lose'

More looting, violence in Haiti ahead of today's general strike

Monday, July 09, 2018

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) — Fresh looting broke out on the streets of Haiti's capital yesterday as protestors called for a two-day general strike despite the Government's climbdown over controversial fuel price hikes.

Facing unrest that has now left at least three dead, leaders of the Caribbean country suspended the price spikes “until further notice” — but the about-face has failed to quell the anger of residents.

In the heart of Port-au-Prince, AFP journalists saw shops ransacked as protestors, some armed with knives, were met by police who fired weapons into the air and detonated tear gas.

Many Haitians are now demanding the immediate departure of President Jovenel Moise and calling for a two-day general strike to begin today.

“If the president stays one more day the game will take on a new appearance; we will cut off the roads and burn everything, because we have nothing else to lose,” said one masked protestor.

Moise had urged demonstrators late Saturday to “go home”, saying the price hike suspension had “corrected what had to be corrected”.

The televised speech disappointed much of the population and the political class: “We were expecting another type of speech — a serene analysis of the situation that has prevailed in the country in the last two days and caused so much loss of life and materials,” lawmaker Jerry Tardieu told AFP.

The renewed violence follows two days of paralysis in the city, sparked Friday by a Government announcement that gasoline prices would rise by 38 per cent, diesel by 47 per cent, and kerosene by 51 per cent starting on the weekend.

Airlines including Air France and American Airlines cancelled several Sunday morning flights, with additional cancellations possible into the afternoon over staffing shortages.

In announcing the suspension of the price hikes, Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant emphasised that “violence and democracy are fundamentally incompatible”.

Even before the fuel price controversy, deputies had already begun a debate on his future, and Saturday's U-turn could lead to the government's fall.

On Friday night, the bodyguard of an Opposition party politician died in an altercation with demonstrators in central Port-au-Prince, as he attempted to get through a roadblock. His body was then burned in the road.

On Saturday afternoon, an AFP journalist saw a young man who had been shot dead.

Parliamentary discussions are under way to determine the next steps aimed at calming the crisis, with some elected officials urging the immediate resignation of the prime minister.

As protests gained pace yesterday, one Haitian, Alphonse Charles, expressed both the frustration and the sense of fatalism felt by many of his countrymen.

Standing next to the remains of his torched car, near burned and looted shops, he laid blame on politicians but lamented that people had gotten “carried away”.

“It's the reality of the country: when we live in Haiti we are angry, frustrated with the way things are managed by politicians.”

But “I have to go on living,” he added. “We will not get carried away just for that”.

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