Strike paralyses Haiti, protesters demand president resign

Schools, businesses and government offices are closed as protesters block roads across the capital Port-au-Prince.

    The strike came a day after thousands of protesters clashed with police [Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters]
    The strike came a day after thousands of protesters clashed with police [Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters]

    Opposition leaders in Haiti have launched a two-day strike, paralysing the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, as protesters demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise over corruption allegations.

    Schools, businesses and government offices were closed on Monday as groups of protesters blocked roads and set piles of tyres ablaze across Port-au-Prince.

    Some protesters burned cars belonging to a local radio station and accused the news media of working for the government.

    Public transportation was suspended, and officials postponed a parliament session.

    The strike came a day after thousands of protesters clashed with police, with two people reported killed and five injured in Port-au-Prince.

    Similar protests were held in the Haitian cities of Jacmel, Cap-Haitien, Saint-Marc and Gonaives.

    Demonstrators came from a wide cross-section of society, including political parties, religious groups and community organisations.

    A dog walks along an empty street during a strike in Port-au-Prince
    Public transportation was suspended, and officials postponed a parliament session [Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters]

    Protesters were demanding further investigation into the fate of funds that resulted from subsidised oil shipments from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe programme, which has been plagued by allegations of corruption since its establishment in 2008. 

    "We demand that all those squandering [public] funds be tried and punished, their assets seized and turned over to the state for serious development projects, and that the president resign and turn himself in," Velina Charlier, a protest leader, said on Sunday.

    The judges of the High Court of Auditors said in a report last week that Moise was at the centre of an "embezzlement scheme" that had siphoned off Venezuelan aid money intended for road repairs.

    The judges' report laid out a litany of examples of corruption and mismanagement.

    The magistrates discovered, for example, that in 2014 Haitian authorities signed contracts with two different companies - Agritrans and Betexs - for the same road-repair project. The two turned out to have the same tax registration number and the same personnel.

    Moise, before he came to power in 2017, headed Agritrans, which received more than 33 million gourdes ($700,000 at the time) to do the road work, though the company in principle did nothing but grow bananas.

    Two vendors walk past a barricade during a strike in Port-au-Prince
    Many Haitians receive electricity for only a few hours a day [Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters]

    The Petrocaribe scandal gave rise to parliamentary inquiries in 2016 and 2017, and public protests goaded the High Court of Auditors to examine how the $1.6bn in Venezuelan funds were spent by succeeding Haitian administrations.

    A Senate investigation recently determined at least 14 former government officials allegedly misused $3.8bn under the administration of former President Michel Martelly.

    Venezuela's collapsing economy has forced the South American nation to halt or drastically curtail Petrocaribe shipments, leading to problems for power generation.

    Many Haitians now receive electricity for only a few hours a day.

    SOURCE: News agencies