Haiti continues to be gripped by civil unrest and mass protests demanding that President Jovenal Moise step down over charges of corruption and and rampant inflation under his watch — yet unlike similar unrest happening hundreds of miles due south of the small Caribbean country in Venezuela, Washington has stood in support of the president. Starting Thursday the US State Department urged all American citizens out of the country and issued a no-not-travel advisory due to “crime and civil unrest”.
And national security adviser John Bolton followed with a statement on Saturday for all sides in Haiti to “respect and protect their democracy” — a bit ironic considering he spent the rest of the day tweeting regime change related messages targeting Venezuela’s Maduro. He revealed in the tweet that he met with Haitian Foreign Minister on Friday “to express the United States’ enduring support for and friendship with Haiti.” He further urged “all of Haiti’s political actors to respect and protect their democracy, engage in dialogue, and put an end to the political violence.”
In its prior travel ban the State Dept. described a rapidly deteriorating situation of “Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common,” and said further that “Emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.” An update told all U.S. citizens who remained in Haiti “to strongly consider departing as soon as they safely can do so” and warned of encountering potential roadblocks or hazardous checkpoints.
“Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport,” the State Department said.
I met with Haitian Foreign Minister @BocchitEdmond yesterday to express the United States’ enduring support for and friendship with Haiti. We urge all of Haiti’s political actors to respect and protect their democracy, engage in dialogue, and put an end to the political violence.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 16, 2019
According to CNN one group of 24 missionaries from Canada have become trapped in a town about 30 miles outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince, unable to navigate the blocked roads into the capital.
CNN also describes clashes that have left an unknown number of Hatians dead:
Several people have been killed in the clashes, according to local media reports. CNN has not been able independently to confirm the exact number of those killed.
In the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Nazon and Turgeau, scores of people stood in lines Saturday desperate for the basics of life: water, gas and food.
Crowds, about 100 strong in spots, dotted the roadways, waiting with 5-gallon plastic buckets, and gas stations were mobbed.
The evacuation orders amidst the unrest, which have been issued by other governments such as Canada, are sure to make things further difficult for the county’s economic woes, as tourism makes up about 5% of GDP.
Mass protests paralyzed the Port-au-Prince region starting a little over a week ago, and are in some aspects actually related to the Venezuela crisis. For starters,
At work is a messy cocktail of political forces opposed to the Jovenel Moïse presidency. This is fueled in part by a judicial report issued in January that outlined massive embezzlement of Venezuela’s discounted oil PetroCaribe program to Haiti. The report highlights individuals from no fewer than three successive Haitian presidencies, and follows a parliamentary report issued more than a year ago that covered many of the same allegations—all left unanswered.
And amidst this Washington starting weeks ago put immense pressure on Port-au-Prince to break ties with the Maduro regime in Venezuela, in recognition of self-styled “Interim President” Juan Guaido.
HAITI is on complete lockdown – roadblocks, shootings, looting. Demands 4 president Moise to leave. Banks/roads closed. No food/diesel. US Embassy evacuated & there is NO WORD ABOUT THIS IN THE US press. https://t.co/KnookW8Nmc #Haiti
— RainnWilson (@rainnwilson) February 14, 2019
These pressures were successful and the Haitian government caved earlier this month, fueling the rage of Hatians in the street, many of which were already angered over the impact that Washington’s oil sanctions on nearby Venezuelea are having on Haiti.
“The police are afraid!”… Police forced to stand down by protesters in Carrefour, PAP, #Haiti this morning. It’s becoming clear the reaction coming today if they open fire. What do you do when protesters are no longer afraid of death? pic.twitter.com/P1L1rAmCtB
— HaitiInfoProject 📡 (@HaitiInfoProj) February 11, 2019
The overlapping Haitian and Venezuelan situations are outlined as follows:
The first and most notable has been the pressure it has been under—most notably from an increasingly irritated Washington—to break ranks with Venezuela’s Maduro regime, which it finally did early this month. The Maduro regime in effect tried to bribe Haiti by offering to reprogram some of the PetroCaribe funding but the Moïse government didn’t back down.
What’s at stake is described by Ariel Fornari of Haiti Analysis:
For more than a decade Venezuela has aided the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic through a preferential system known as Petrocaribe, which provided subsidized crude oil prices to meet the countries critical energy demands. The Petrocaribe oil agreement, allowed for governments to pay only 60 percent of the oil shipments they purchase from Venezuela. The remaining 40 percent could be financed over 25 years at 1 percent interest, as long as oil prices stayed above $40 per barrel. This allowed for tremendous savings, and money that (according to the agreement) was supposed to be used for socially beneficial purposes.
Countries such as Nicaragua, Jamaica, Cuba, and many islands in the eastern Caribbean have successfully utilized Petrocaribe funds and other Venezuelan support mechanisms, investing in vital infrastructure, education, healthcare, and have used the funding to avoid austerity deals with the IMF and other international financial institutions. Corrupt politicians in Hispaniola, though, whose regimes are closely aligned with Washington, have by contrast become well-known for robbing many of the funds meant for the social needs of their population.
Thus Port-au-Prince so easily succumbing to Washington against Maduro was the last straw for many in a politically complex scandal which has grown for years as a result of the Petrocaribe deal, which began in earnest when it was revealed in 2017 that almost $4bn in funds earmarked for social development went missing, widely assumed to be the result of corrupt officials still within the Moise government skimming on a mass scale.
Interestingly the Maduro government itself has been accused of stirring discontent in Haiti’s streets through the Venezuelan embassy in the Haitian capital and its ambassador, who is reportedly still in residence. This is an accusation likely to grow coming from anti-Maduro leaders.
Meanwhile the value of the national currency (Gourde) keeps plummeting, and the future looks increasingly bleak, signified by an early February tragedy in which a boatload of Haitians drowned trying to reach the Bahamas — which observers see as a worrisome indicator of what’s coming.