PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Gunfire caused panic in the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince Sunday, and two people were killed as thousands of Haitians protested against government corruption.
The protesters were demanding President Jovenel Moise’s resignation over allegations of fraud and mismanagement of government funds. They vow to remain in the streets until their demands are met. Protesters were able to get within 50 meters of Moise’s private residence located in a suburb of the capital. Police prevented them from getting any closer and posted additional officers in front of the president’s home.
A video posted on social media showed anti-riot police throwing rocks at a man who appeared to be dead, during the operation to secure the perimeter around the president's home. The National Police force, PNH, denounced the act as "shameful" in a message posted on its Twitter account adding "this is not part of our mission." Police officials say the video has been seized and that an investigation has been launched to determine which officers were involved so that they can be appropriately reprimanded.
In the streets
“We PetroChallengers are done with traditional politicians. They are only interested in using us for their own political gains,” a protester marching on the Airport road in the capital told VOA Creole. “We’re in the streets for good and we are woke.”
Protesters were able to get within 50 meters of Moise’s private residence, located in a suburb of the capital, for the first time since the series of anti-corruption protests began. Police prevented them from getting any closer and posted additional officers in front of the president’s home.
The Embassy of France, located near the National Palace, was also attacked. Protesters damaged a gate. VOA Creole reporter Matiado Vilme drove by and saw the gate smoldering. She said the surveillance cameras on the wall were also torn out.
Members of the National Police force, PNH, prevented further damage. The embassy has not yet commented on the attack.
The police tweeted that while some of its officers were cleaning up rocks thrown into the street by “angry protesters,” their vehicles were set on fire.
What sparked protests
President Moise is accused of fraudulently benefiting from funds generated by the PetroCaribe oil alliance with Venezuela.
The allegations were made in an official report handed to Haiti’s Senate on May 31. Haiti's Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Litigation (Cour Superieure de Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif), a nonpartisan institution tasked with overseeing the government's budget, spending and allocation of funds, prepared the report detailing irregularities and alleged abuse of funds generated under the PetroCaribe agreement.
Moise has denied the allegations, calling them political and his representatives have cast doubts on the methods used in the report.
Looting, fires and gunshots
Elsewhere in the capital, fire raged in a structure close to the Western Department government building, where representatives of the police force, education and public health sectors have offices. Police prevented any damage at the premises.
Looting was reported at the Triomphe, a popular movie theater, and protesters attempted to set fire and loot the Roi des Rois supermarket.
Earlier in the day shots were fired into the crowd in Bel Air, a poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Several people were wounded. VOA Creole spoke to an eyewitness at the scene.
“A security guard showed up and fired into the crowd, he shot several people, among them a member of our group. We took him urgently to the EMS team on the scene to be treated,” the man said. He told VOA Creole his colleague was shot in the stomach.
According to the Associated Press, one person fell after the sound of nearby gunfire. Journalists said the man was taken to Sam Ambulance service, where its director said he had died by the time he arrived.
It was not immediately clear who fired the shot that killed the man, according to the AP report.
Politicians join in
Members of the opposition also joined protesters.
“Today is a historic day for the people of Haiti,” opposition Senator Nenel Cassy told VOA Creole as he walked with the PetroChallengers, accompanied by other fellow opposition senators. “We want to show our support for the protesters.”
“We need justice,” added Senator Evaliere Beauplan, referring to the corruption allegations lodged against the president. “We need hospitals, we need universities we need schools, we need jobs, we need social programs, our poor can’t afford basic necessities, policemen have not been paid and it’s obvious the system cannot change with (President) Jovenel (Moise) in charge.”
In Les Cayes, in the south, students and opposition politicians joined PetroChallengers in the streets.
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Cabe Manert, a member of the OPL (Organization for the People’s Struggle) opposition party told VOA Creole. “We can’t fathom living in a country run by thieves when people can’t afford to eat or drink. They are responsible for the situation we are in. So we will continue this fight until Jovenel packs up and leaves.”
Protests were also reported in the cities of St. Marc, Mireballais, Jeremie and Cape Haitian in the north.
Yves Manuel in Petion-Ville, Jean Hernst Eliscar in Les Cayes, Junior Racine in St. Marc, Charles Makenson in Jeremie and Yvan Martin in Cape Haitian contributed to this report.