FILE - President Jovenel Moise, then the Haitian presidential candidate of PHTK Political Party, speaks during an interview with AFP in Port-au-Prince, Sept. 6, 2016.
FILE - President Jovenel Moise, then the Haitian presidential candidate of PHTK Political Party, speaks during an interview with AFP in Port-au-Prince, Sept. 6, 2016.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI  - Haitian President Jovenel Moise has broken his silence after eight days of violent protests during which protesters demanded his resignation.

“I hear you,” Moise said in an evening address to the nation, televised on the national television station, TNH, and streamed live on Facebook.

“I will never betray you. You are the reason I ran for president. I’m working for you,” he vowed, reminding the country’s most underprivileged citizens that like them, he, too, came from humble beginnings.

Moise has been widely criticized by politicians and citizens alike for failing to publicly respond to the demands of the people. He has also been vilified for his government’s lack of transparency and its ineffectiveness.

Economic hardship

Protesters nationwide have criticized soaring prices, sky-high inflation and corruption, which have led to worsening living conditions for many.

Moise sought to diminish tensions by saying he understands the frustrations that led to the mass protests. Progress takes time, especially for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, he said.

Demonstrators flee as Haitian police open fire dur
Demonstrators flee as Haitian police open fire during clashes in the center of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Feb. 13, 2019.

The president announced that he has taken a series of measures to make life better for Haitians and has asked Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant to communicate those measures and apply them immediately. After his speech he tweeted that the prime minister would announce new economic measures on Friday.

“The crisis we are confronting is extremely serious,” Moise said. “The people took to the streets in July 2018 to demand change. I heard you. That’s why I chose an electoral rival — notary public Jean Henry Ceant — as my prime minister. Five months later, the crisis has worsened and it threatens the very foundation of this nation.”

Moise warned those who seek to “force the country in a direction that is not in our interest” that they will not succeed. He said only a multiparty dialogue can solve the current crisis.

Senate Leader Carl Cantave Murat echoed that opinion earlier Thursday during a midday press conference.

Protesters undeterred

According to VOA Creole’s reporter in Port-au-Prince, gunfire rang out in various neighborhoods as soon as the president’s speech ended.

Reaction on Facebook immediately following the address was mixed. The 1,000 comments left on TNH’s Facebook page ranged from “finally” and “nice address darling” to “why did it take you so long to say something?” and “is he serious?”

VOA Creole reporters say protesters were back in the streets Thursday night, seemingly undeterred by the president’s address. The national police, PNH, are using tear gas, according to reports.

Meanwhile, in Washington the State Department has raised its travel alert for Haiti to level 4, the most serious. “Do not travel, due to crime and unrest,” the advisory reads.

Matiado Vilme and Florence Lisene in Port-au-Prince, and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.