Six people have been killed and at least five others wounded during anti-corruption protests across Haiti, according to police, as anger grows over the disappearance of billions of dollars linked to a public finance programme.
Thousands of Haitians marched in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other parts of the country on Sunday calling for a probe into the spending of $3.8bn Haiti received from Venezuela as part of an oil assistance programme.
President Jovenel Moise called for dialogue with opposition groups that are seeking his resignation for failing to investigate corruption.
Clashes with police erupted on Sunday after protesters blocked streets and set fire to tires.
Four people were wounded in clashes in San Marcos, northeast of the capital, and dozens were arrested, police said. There were also reports of clashes in smaller protests across the country.
Police said they deployed more than 3,000 officers in the capital, the city of Cap-Haitien and smaller cities and towns.
Tensions have been running high in the Latin American nation since an investigation by Haiti’s Senate revealed alleged embezzlement by at least 14 former government officials in former president Michel Martelly’s administration.
The senate’s report, which was published in August, has accused two former prime ministers and former government officials of abuse of authority and forgery stemming from the use of funds in the Venezuelan-sponsored Petrocaribe programme. No one has been charged yet.
‘Tired of the system’
The demonstrators demanded a trial of officials involved in the alleged misuse of public funds.
“The Haitians are tired of the system. They want the system to change, and reverse, and (for) the benefit of the community,” Samuel Louis, a protester, said.
“This is the very reason why, today, they chose to invade the street,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
Starting in 2005, Venezuela offered discounted crude oil with lenient repayment terms to countries around Central America and the Caribbean.
Much of the financial support to help Haiti rebuild after the 2010 earthquake comes from the Petrocaribe fund, which gives suppliers below-market financing for oil and is under the control of the central government
Moise has said that his administration would investigate the allegations of embezzlement and hold all those responsible accountable.
As part of a purge linked to the corruption scandal, two top government officials and 15 advisers were removed from office last month.
But on Sunday, demonstrators reiterated their demand for answers into the missing funds, as they marched with banners reading: “Where is the Petrocaribe money?”
“We ask for the Petrocaribe trial,” said Adrien Jean, a protester. “Second, the departure of accused (President) Jovenel Moise.”
Haiti is the poorest Latin American country, with almost 60 percent of its population living below the national poverty line of $2.41 a day, according to the World Bank.
The impoverished country, which remains extremely vulnerable to natural hazards, is still rebuilding from the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.