WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Thousands took to the streets on Sunday in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, as well as Les Cayes in the south and Cape Haitian in the north to continue demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. PetroChallenger activists teamed up with various grassroots groups, fanning out across cities to reiterate their message to government officials accused of corruption.
“Not only are we demanding the president resign, but we want him to remain in the country so he can be judged because the PetroCaribe trial must happen,” a protest leader told VOA Creole.
“We’ve been in the streets for several days now, and we will not stop until Jovenel resigns,” he said.
“Thieves belong in jail!” a protester, who said he is a member of the Sitwayen Revolte (Citizens Revolt) group, shouted. “We left our neighborhoods in the slums of the capital to put the president on notice that if he doesn’t leave voluntarily, we will force him to go anyway we can. We will not back down!”
Allegations against Moise
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, prepared the report detailing irregularities and alleged abuse of funds generated under the PetroCaribe agreement. The $3.8 billion in oil revenue that went missing had been earmarked for infrastructure projects, education and social programs.
In a national speech on June 12, the president rejected allegations his companies misused funds from the PetroCaribe oil alliance and said he would not resign.
Tear gas and rubber bullets
In the capital, men who appeared to be wearing police uniforms sped through a main thoroughfare in an unmarked gray pick-up truck and fired tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. Panic ensued as people sought cover. VOA Creole spoke to a young man who was wounded.
“ I didn’t see the policeman up close,” he said, “but I did see a pick-up truck firing tear gas on the Grand Rue (street).”
Asked who was driving the truck, he said he couldn’t be sure.
“You know the uniforms ITMO, CIMO they all look the same so I can’t tell you exactly. I was shot 5 or 6 times - you can see my ear is bandaged, one (rubber bullet) hit me here.” The protester told VOA Creole he had been treated by a team from the Red Cross who happened to be driving by after the incident.
Earlier, protesters set fire to the Direction Generale des Impots (DGI) offices which handles tax revenue.
In the southern city of Les Cayes, hundreds marched downtown holding a black coffin with the words “Nou Fini Ak Sistem Peze Souse a” (We’re done with this repressive, predatory system). Inside was a makeshift dummy deemed Jovenel Moise whom protesters mourned in a mock funeral.
“I’m dying of hunger,” a teen protester told VOA Creole after appearing to faint and fall to the ground. Two young men ran to lift him up to his feet and gave him something to drink.
“Jovenel is dead to us,” he said when he regained his composure. “We want a different constitution closer to what the United States has, where each state has a governor,” the teenager told VOA.
In the northern city of Cape Haitian, a large crowd marched through the streets of downtown chanting “He must go! He must go!”
“We are defending our rights,” a protester in his 20s told VOA Creole. “ The PetroCaribe money that a group of dogs - members of PHTK (Pati Ayisyen Tet Kale, the ruling party) - wasted and misused. The money should have gone to educating the nation. They prefer for the people to remain illiterate so they can continue to manipulate the economy.”
Former Senator Moise Jean Charles, a member of the opposition Pitit Dessalines (Dessalines’ Children) party joined the protesters and spoke words of encouragement.
“The protesters are right to be in the streets,“ he told the crowd. “They are asking what happened to the PetroCaribe money. They want President Jovenel Moise to resign and they want to change the system (government). They want a new revolution. That’s why they’re protesting.”
The former senator said he wants the protesters to know “the mobilization will not stop, that’s why we’re here.”
The PetroChallengers agree and plan more protests on Monday.
Hernst Eliscar in Les Cayes and Yvan Martin in Cape Haitian contributed to this report