Haiti Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant abruptly resigned Saturday. He faced a no-confidence vote in parliament following deadly riots over the government’s plan to revoke fuel subsidies, and accusations that he had mishandled the entire matter.
Under that scheme, fuel prices in Haiti would have increased by up to 50%.
The hike was part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which required Haiti to enact a series of economic reforms in exchange for $96 million from donors. The IMF noted that, by keeping fuel prices artificially low, Haiti is losing about $160 million a year — money that could be spent on badly needed social programs.
Following the announcement that the price of gas would increase by 38%, diesel by 47% and kerosene by 51%, angry Haitians took to the streets, burning tires and erecting road blocks. Luxury hotels were attacked, and businesses were vandalized and looted as protesters demanded the departure of Lafontant and Moïse.
At least three people died, including a police officer, and U.S. air carriers temporarily canceled flights. Unable to get around road blocks, Haitians and tourists became stuck in their places of employment, hotel lobbies and elsewhere — some for as long as three days. Foreign embassies warned their citizens of trouble, including the U.S. State Department which issued a “Do not travel” Level 4 warning for the country.
Lafontant’s resignation now means that Moïse has to find a new prime minister. Failure to reach a consensus with both chambers of parliament on the next government could plunge Haiti deeper into a crisis.
It would also delay decisions relating to the agreement with the IMF, which reiterated last week that Haiti still needs to raise its fuel prices to align them with prices on the global market. This time, however, the increases should be gradual, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said, and include programs such as transportation vouchers to mitigate the impact on the country’s 6 million citizens who live on less than $2.25 a day.
The fuel price measure is just one of the difficult issues awaiting Haiti’s next government. Earlier this year, the IMF downgraded the country’s expected economic growth from a government-projected 3.9% to 2%. With inflation at 12.8% and rising, any shock to the already weak economy could lead to further social unrest.
United States Senator, Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), says he has reached out to several donors to see what kind of assistance they could offer Haiti to help address some of its socioeconomic issues.
Moïse, who has been in office for just 17 months, has been a harsh critic of foreign aid to Haiti. He is said to have told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence ‘Haiti doesn’t need aid; aid gives us problems. It’s better to give us support instead, for me to [tackle] correct the corruption.’
Haiti, meanwhile, has sought help from Venezuela, dispatching its foreign minister to Caracas to see if the South American country could either provide more fuel, or allow it to tap money it owes as part of its debt repayment but has been unable to send to Caracas because of U.S. sanctions on the Nicolás Maduro regime.
Story sourced from Miami Herald