Haitian Protests Turn Deadly As Calls Increase For President's Resignation

Jun 12, 2019
Originally published on June 12, 2019 7:13 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Haitians are demanding change. Protesters there are calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. They accuse him of mismanaging billions of dollars in oil money. Two people have died in the demonstrations, including a well-known radio journalist. Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, and she joins us now from Miami. Thanks so much for being with us, Jacqueline.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Can you explain what the president is accused of?

CHARLES: Yes. So the president is accused of receiving a number of road contracts prior to him becoming president and in the walk up to the presidential elections that took place in 2015 and 2016. And among those road contracts were two contracts - the same contract for the same road, given to two different companies which shared the same tax ID, the same technical staff and the same portfolio of projects. The only difference between those two companies - one, Agritrans, had the president, the current President Jovenel Moise, as its president, and the other listed someone else. And that other company was Betexs.

So basically what the government auditors here are saying is that you were double billing, that the Ministry of Public Works at the time gave the exact - you know, two different contracts for the exact same road to the same company.

MARTIN: But this also has to do with a Venezuelan oil program, right?

CHARLES: Yes. So Haiti, like a number of countries in the Caribbean and Central America, were part of a program called Petrocaribe. And basically what it did was it allowed them to receive oil at, you know, market price. But they didn't have to pay it until 25 years down the road. And they received 1% interest on that. So the savings of not having to pay upfront were supposed to be invested in social programs for the poor, like housing, roads and other development projects. And those were really important after the earthquake.

And what this audit shows - and this is the second audit of those funds, and we're talking about $4 billion that people have projected since 2008. But Venezuela did forgive the debt. So we're really looking at $2 billion.

MARTIN: But this money did not go to those social problems - or social programs, as it was supposed to?

CHARLES: No, it did not. And there was just a lot of government waste. Like, for one instance, there's a movie - an old movie theater that today is abandoned and boarded up. And the only visible thing that you see is that it got a nice paint job. Well, when you look at this audit, you see that $5 million was dispersed. So $5 million to go to pay for a paint job? You know, where did the money go?

MARTIN: So protesters want change. They want the president to quit. They've been on the streets, and they've turned very violent, right?

CHARLES: Yes. It has turned violent. I mean, this is a renewal from their protest we saw last year. But there are a fresh round of protests in light of this audit that was - that came out on the 31st. And they are demanding his resignation. He has not spoken. He has not said anything. But his advisers say that he is not going anywhere. And it's not him who's accused. It's his company that's accused in this audit. And unfortunately, it has turned violent and journalists are now under attack.

At the same time, yesterday, folks started a campaign, Unfollow Jovenel Moise, on Twitter. And he has lost thousands of followers since this campaign has started. So they are getting him on the streets, and they're getting him on social media.

MARTIN: Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald talking to us about protests in Haiti. Demonstrators there demanding the resignation of the Haitian president over corruption charges.

Jacqueline, thanks for sharing your reporting on this.

CHARLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.