WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Hundreds of Haitians braved rainy weather and joined an opposition protest Friday to demand an end to rampant government corruption and to call for President Jovenel Moise to resign.
Opposition Senator Saurel Jacinthe, who drew attention to a bribery scheme in parliament, joined protesters in the capital, Port-au-Prince. One of Jacinthe's main targets was Prime Minister-designate Fritz William Michel, who has come under fire for allegedly bribing members of parliament to approve his nomination and for a questionable contract one of his businesses signed with the government.
Michel has been criticized for selling to the government 20,000 American goats at a cost of $325 a head. Critics say Michel has no experience with livestock and does not own a goat farm. The market price for goats in Haiti is $100.
"You can't put a goat thief in the prime minister's seat. I think it's obvious," Jacinthe told VOA Creole, referring to the contract that Michel landed with the government.
"Michel has to withdraw [his nomination] and I think it's clear that after that we can move forward with a ... new alternative to lead the country. That's why we are here today," Jacinthe said.
The senator said the mobilization would continue until Tuesday.
Friday's protests were meant to coincide with the birthday of national hero and former slave Jean Jacques Dessalines.
Dessalines, a revered revolutionary war general, announced the country's independence from France in 1804. For many Haitians, he symbolizes the pinnacle of good leadership.
The opposition also called for the establishment of a transitional government, trials for all those implicated in a corruption scandal surrounding Caribbean oil alliance PetroCaribe, prosecution of public officials accused of corruption, and organization of a National Sovereignty Conference to discuss the framework for a new government. The PetroCaribe scandal concerns the misuse of oil revenue that was supposed to be used for social programs in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. The oil came from Venezuela under specially negotiated terms.
PetroCaribe was launched in June 2005 as an alliance with Venezuela, giving members preferential treatment for energy purchase, at a discounted price with low-interest deferred terms and an option to pay in kind instead of currency.
Several audits have shown that much of Haiti's PetroCaribe revenue disappeared, having been disbursed for government construction contracts on projects that were never finished.
"[No matter] where you live in the country, you are facing the same problems," a protester in the Canape Vert neighborhood of the capital told VOA Creole. "We blame Jovenel for our misery; he has to leave the country."
"It's not the government that is the problem," another protester said. "It is a problem of the legislative chamber which includes the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. They are the problem, not the president, or the ministers."
Demonstrations are expected nationwide as Haiti faces a severe fuel shortage, along with an economic and political crisis.
President Moise has not commented on the protests.