Haiti suspends fuel price increase after violent protests erupt
The now-suspended decision to raise prices was part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which requires the country to enact a range of austerity measures
Haiti’s Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant announced the suspension “until further notice” of a fuel price increase that triggered violent protests and left at least seven dead in the Caribbean nation.
The about-face came hours Saturday after Lafontant made an impassioned televised appeal for patience, and tried to convince people of the need to raise prices.
The capital Port-au-Prince and its environs had stood paralysed since Friday afternoon, with major routes blocked by barricades, some made of burning tyres, and some protesters even calling for a revolution in the impoverished country.
Just before the suspension was announced, the leader of Haiti’s lower house of parliament had threatened a government takeover if the fuel price increases were not reversed.
They had only been announced on Friday, while many Haitians were engrossed in a World Cup soccer match.
“If there is no response within two hours, the government will be considered as having resigned” and the legislature will take charge, Gary Bodeau, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, said.
Lafontant then announced suspension of the price hikes on Twitter, writing that “violence and democracy are fundamentally incompatible.”
The seven casualties were reported following looting in the capital, the HPN news agency said. Police also spoke of casualties but did not mention any figures.
Similar angry protests broke out in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, as well as in the communes of Les Cayes, Jacmel and Petit-Goave.
The troubles were sparked by a government announcement that fuel prices would rise by 38 per cent, diesel by 47 per cent and kerosene by 51 per cent starting this weekend.
Protests prompted several major airlines, including American, Air France, Delta, Jet Blue and Copa, to cancel flights to Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew which struck in 2016. Almost 40,000 people remain in makeshift camps after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people eight years ago, and thousands of others have died from a years-long cholera epidemic.
A framework signed in February between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Haiti implied the ending of subsidies for petroleum products, which are a major source of the budget deficit.
But subsidies also help make fuel affordable in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, where most people live in extreme poverty, joblessness is widespread and the inflation rate has exceeded 13 per cent for the past three years.
Arguing in support of the higher fuel prices earlier in the day, Lafontant said that between 2010 and 2018, government fuel subsidies had cost US$1 billion – an amount, he said, that “could have allowed us to build many kilometres of highway … many classrooms … many health clinics.”
Government officials also complain that the country has for years effectively been subsidising people in the neighbouring Dominican Republic who drive across the border to take advantage of Haiti’s lower fuel prices.
Additional reporting by Tribune News Service