Anti-Government Protesters In Haiti Vow To Resume Demonstrations In 2020

Dec 31, 2019
Originally published on December 31, 2019 8:37 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Haiti, opponents of the president say they'll be back on the streets on New Year's Day. Protesters took a break for the holidays after months of street demonstrations. Now they plan to return until their president leaves. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At a Port-au-Prince gas station, Markenson Pierre fills up his mototaxi. These small motorcycles are the best at getting through the capital's hellish traffic.

MARKENSON PIERRE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "I use this old thing to make a living, to give my kids food and to pay for their school," he says. But lately, after protesters took to the streets to demand President Jovenel Moise resign, he hasn't been able to work, his kids haven't gone to school, and food prices have skyrocketed. "I just want some stability in the country," he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE REVVING)

KAHN: Haiti is long used to political and economic crises, but observers say the latest clashes between the president and his opponents have brought suffering and dysfunction to new depth. Riots began last July after the government announced plans to hike gas prices. It didn't follow through, but the protests have continued, with the last few months being some of the most violent. At least 55 people have died and more than 100 injured, according to the U.N.

HANS DESTOUCHES: And we spend, like, a month without getting gas, and when we receive it, it's very little, you know?

KAHN: Hans Destouches manages this gas station in Petionville in the hills above the city. This one and another station closer to downtown have been repeatedly attacked during the demonstrations.

DESTOUCHES: You know, we just have the (ph) repaint because we had a car over there, you know, and they put fire on it.

KAHN: Right here?

DESTOUCHES: Right here.

KAHN: The burned-out car has been removed and the wall freshly painted during a break in the protests that lasted much of December. But demonstrators say they will be back New Year's Day, Haiti's Independence Day. They're demanding investigations into the waste of billions of dollars of earthquake relief funds, and they want the president investigated for allegedly misappropriating aid from the Venezuela oil program known as PetroCaribe. President Moise denies any wrongdoing. Opposition leader Michel Andre says the president has lost all credibility.

MICHEL ANDRE: (Speaking French).

KAHN: "This corruption has made it impossible for the state to meet even the most basic needs of the people," says Andre. The protests and roadblocks have crippled food distribution, especially outside the capital. Nearly 4 million Haitians are unable to reliably get food.

ANDRE: (Speaking French).

KAHN: "The Americans and the international community must stop supporting a president who can no longer run this country," says Andre. Moise took office in 2017 after an election with only 21% turnout. His popularity has plummeted ever since. The U.S., though, remains committed to engaging with Moise as its democratically elected president. The State Department tells NPR the U.S. will support a Haitian-led solution to end the gridlock.

Earlier this month, the Vatican and the United Nations tried to bring both sides to the negotiating table. President Moise invited opponents to the National Palace before Christmas. All declined. As the political stalemate continues, human rights activist Marie Yolene Gilles says criminals and gangs are taking advantage of the power vacuum.

MARIE YOLENE GILLES: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "There is terrible sadness in Haiti now." She says more than 100 gangs are operating on the island. Gilles, now 58, says she believes she will not see a fair and just Haiti in her lifetime.

But 29-year-old Emmanuela Douyon is part of a new phenomenon taking place in Haiti now that has young artists and professionals demanding clean government. She says she's not giving up.

EMMANUELA DOUYON: If I have to leave Haiti because I can't live here anymore, I have to at least try, and I have to give everything before giving up.

KAHN: Douyon says she will be back out on the streets in the New Year. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.