WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Dozens of police officers took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Monday to demand the government pay them the money it owes them. The group, who fanned out on motorbikes, pickup trucks, SUVs and on foot, were accompanied by some civilian supporters.
“We’re out in the street today because we still haven’t received what we asked for,” a policeman, dressed in uniform, wearing a black face mask and holding a rifle told VOA Creole. He said he is part of a group that calls itself “Fantom 509” and who represent those killed on the job. Fantom means ghost.
The officer said they are asking the government to put a credit of 25,000 Haitian dollars on their debit cards and pay them a 50,000 Haitian dollar base salary. Overall, they want better work conditions and a better salary.
The officer, who did not give his name, also accused the Office National d'Assurance-Vieillesse (ONA), a government agency that oversees retirement benefits for government employees, of corruption and favoritism.
“We know ONA doesn’t provide loans to poor people like us, they only know lawmakers (and their relatives) like Youri’s mother (Senator Latortue), senators and deputies,” he said.
“The living officers asked us to join them in the street today,” a man, dressed in black clothing, a black hat, dark sunglasses and a black face mask told VOA. Asked who exactly the ‘living officers’ are, the masked man said they are the officers who work out of the police stations, responding to 911 calls, direct traffic and perform other law enforcement duties.
While he was talking to reporters, VOA heard shots being fired on the street - one of which was so loud it caused the officer to flinch. He said they are prepared to continue protesting until their demands are met.
At one point, the protesters exchanged fire with a group of policemen who arrived on the scene in armed vehicles to disperse them. At least one person was injured, VOA Creole has learned.
But the attempt to disperse the protest was unsuccessful, and the group made its way to the Ministry of Economy and Finance where they rammed the gate with an SUV, then set fire to four vehicles.
During the protest, which lasted several hours, VOA saw some protesters wearing masks, but many others were not social distancing at a time when the coronavirus continues to spread in the country.
As of April 26, Haiti has a total of 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Public Health Ministry. Seven people have recovered and six have died.
Shortly after the protest, Haitian President Jovenel Moise addressed the nation in a pre-planned speech about the government’s coronavirus response. During the address, Moise said he has instructed Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe to release back pay for the police officers who have not been paid. He made no mention of Monday’s police protest.