PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant made a highly-anticipated address to the nation late Saturday in which he detailed measures aimed at resolving the economic crisis that prompted massive nationwide protests.
The speech, which President Jovenel Moise had announced would be made on Friday, began two hours late, stoking speculation that the rift between the president and his prime minister had worsened. Ceant told a local radio station Friday morning that the president had pressured him to resign. Ceant said he refused to do so. The prime minister’s spokesman apologized to the nation on Twitter for the delay.
Apologies for the tardiness of the speech. RT: https://t.co/L3OACeKwcu— Sandra Lemaire (@SandraDVOA) February 17, 2019
“For 10 days now, our country has experienced difficult times, a series of events that worries everyone,” Ceant began by saying, acknowledging that the protests had kept children from going to school, closed businesses and cost the government massive amounts in lost revenue.
Mon adresse à la nation. https://t.co/KsmnkRYkCW— Jean-Henry Céant (@jeanhenryceant) February 17, 2019
“At the same time people are suffering…we are facing a grave humanitarian crisis,” he said. “The country is divided, and this didn’t begin today.”
Ceant admitted there had been many missed opportunities to resolve the country’s problems going back to July 6 and 7 of 2018 when massive protests and looting left the country reeling.
“Do you remember what happened? The people reminded us that we must come together and engage in a multi-party dialogue so we can improve their living conditions. The people’s message was clear. They said they can’t take it anymore,” he said.
To that end he detailed 10 measures aimed at bringing relief as quickly as possible to the population.
“I am asking for a 30 percent reduction in the Primature’s budget and we’ll suggest the same for the Executive and Legislative branches of government,” he announced. “Let’s remove all the unnecessary privileges government officials enjoy such as gasoline coupons, phone cards, unnecessary foreign trips, various consultants.”
A man reacting to the speech in real time on Facebook responded that a 70 percent reduction would be better.
Life in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and its suburbs slowly began to return to normal Saturday after days of demonstrations against the country's president and economic problems.
Public transportation was up and running, too, after protest leaders announced a reprieve. But some neighborhoods remained blocked because of leftover makeshift barricades.
Banks, supermarkets and stores were open for business, and residents were out on the streets, according to VOA Creole's reporters.
The prime minister also acknowledged the PetroChallenger anti-corruption protesters who staged nationwide demonstrations to demand accountability for graft in connection with an oil deal signed with the government of Venezuela. Protesters have been demanding for months, transparency from the government regarding the alleged misuse of $3.8 billion. The money, due to Haiti under the PetroCaribe oil alliances signed between Venezuela and Caribbean nations starting in June 2005, had been earmarked for infrastructure and social and economic projects.
“We will continue to act on the Petro Caribe dossier, “ Ceant promised. “We will go faster now, to allow the country to find the missing Petro Caribe funds.”
He said he would quickly name a new director who would be tasked with moving the process forward.
The speech also detailed measures aimed at increasing government revenue and reducing inflation.
On Facebook, where views peaked at 5,000 in real time, reaction ranged from “finally” and “ let’s unite to fight for Haiti peacefully and securely” to “ Jibberish — people already know this story — we want action instead of words that don’t mean anything” and “you’re all a bunch of vagabonds — enjoy your life — I hope you spend the rest of your days in prison.”
Frantz Duval, editor in chief of Haiti’s leading newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, responded to the speech on Twitter saying “ The nation has been enriched with new promises. Not one concrete applicable measure as of tonight. The prime minister @jeanhenryceant has spoken. We can congratulate him for at least having a less aggressive tone and for having an audience in front of him, contrary to the president's speech.”
La nation s’est enrichie de nouvelles promesses. Pas une mesure concrète applicable dès ce soir. Le PM @jeanhenryceant a parlé. On peut le féliciter pour le ton moins agressif et pour le fait qu’il avait un auditoire devant lui contrairement au président @moisejovenel #Haiti— Frantz Duval (@Frantzduval) February 17, 2019
Meanwhile, in an interview with VOA Creole Saturday, opposition Senator Youri Latortue, said protests would continue Sunday to demand the president resign.