PORT-AU-PRINCE - Hundreds of Haitians protested in the streets of the capital, Port- au-Prince, for the ninth consecutive day Friday, despite the president's assurances that he understands their pain and is working toward a solution.
"We are asking the international community to help us get rid of [President] Jovenel [Moise] because Jovenel is working for them," a protester told VOA Creole. "Fellow citizens, please if you see Jovenel on the street, handcuff him and throw him in jail," the young man added.
Moise broke his weeklong silence with a national address Thursday night, which was broadcast nationwide and on Facebook. He sought to calm and reassure a tense and angry nation.
"I hear you," Moise said, acknowledging criticism about his government's ineffectiveness and lack of transparency. "I will never betray you. You are the reason I ran for president. I'm working for you."
He also reminded the country's most underprivileged citizens that like them, he, too, came from humble beginnings.
Moise announced that he has taken a series of measures to make life better for Haitians and has asked Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant, whom he described as an electoral rival, to communicate those measures and apply them immediately. He later tweeted that Ceant would announce the new economic measures Friday.
It is still unclear whether or when the prime minister will announce the measures, but in an interview with a local radio station Friday morning, Ceant said the president had pressured him to resign. Ceant said he refused.
On the streets of Port-au-Prince, protesters are burning tires and building makeshift barricades, which are blocking many roads.
"We don't need for the prime minister to resign," a protester in his 20s told VOA Creole. "We need lower prices. This morning I went to buy a bag of rice — I'm a poor person — they were asking 350 dollars [Haitian Gourdes, the local currency, are equivalent to about U.S. $3.50]. So, president, I'm asking you to resign. You can go now."
"Jovenel is adding fuel to the fire," a protester in his 40s told VOA Creole. "It would have been better if he had never said anything." The man decried the current living conditions where young people have died and residents are dealing with a water shortage.
"I'm out here [protesting] for the ninth time. I lost a lot of brothers and sisters during these protests," another man said proudly. "The president humiliated [in his speech last night] by calling us drug dealers, while he sends kudos to the Americans. Mr. President, we are not drug dealers!"
The international community has acknowledged the people's right to protest but deplored the violence and damage to property.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday reacting to the protests and the president's speech.
"The United States Government shares the desire of the Haitian people for a better future for Haiti," it said. "We encourage all of Haiti's lawfully elected representatives, and all Haitians who seek a peaceful political solution consistent with Haiti's constitution to engage in an inclusive dialogue — without resorting to violent action."
The statement also encouraged "sound economic policy measures" and "transparent resource management" as ways to improve living conditions.
Déclaration de l’ambassade des États-Unis https://t.co/uP93Yru8oq— U.S. Embassy Haiti (@USEmbassyHaiti) February 15, 2019
Meanwhile, Haiti Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond is in Washington. He tweeted a photo of himself at the White House where he met with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.
@moisejovenel @jeanhenryceant @MCHaiti @Stanleylucas01 A la Maison Blanche pour rencontrer Ambassadeur John Bolton, Conseiller en Sécurité Nationale du Président Trump pour discuter des questions bilatérales d’importance. pic.twitter.com/cLH2B3J7Ox— Bocchit Edmond (@BocchitEdmond) February 15, 2019
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.
Renan Toussaint and Matiado Vilme contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince, Nike Ching contributed from the State Department, Ronald Cesar contributed in Washington.