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Violent protests in Haiti may mean a humanitarian crisis

Violent protests in Haiti against the government are threatening the country with a humanitarian crisis. President Jovenel Moïse is refusing to resign, there is mounting debt, and allegations of corruption. Both the U.S. and Canada are warning citizens not to travel to haiti and some tourists are stranded there. Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles updates Hari Sreenivasan on the situation

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more than a week, the island nation of Haiti has been rocked by street violence as protesters, angry over soaring inflation and government corruption, have demanded the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse. Demonstrators have been blocking roads and stoning emergency vehicles and destroying businesses. The U.S. State Department has raised the travel warning to the country, advising citizens not to travel there and is asking all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their families to leave. Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean correspondent for The Miami Herald and she joins us now from Miami. Explain a little bit more about what these protests are about.

  • Jacqueline Charles:

    Well, these protests are basically about two issues — corruption and the economic turmoil that is hitting Haiti currently. Let's start with the issue of corruption. Haitians today are saying that they are fed up with decades of government corruption and they are particularly pointing to a program that was financed by Venezuela. It was a discount oil program called Petrocariba in which Haiti receives oil at a discount price from Venezuela. They didn't have to pay it back until over 25 years and they received it at a 1 percent interest rate. But that savings was supposed to be used for social programs, to ameliorate the situation of the population in terms of health care, child care, education, you name it. That was the feeling. Housing, after the earthquake.

    Well, almost 10 years after that earthquake, Haitians say they do not see where that money has been spent. And today, they owe, the country owes Venezuela almost $2 billion. And so for months we have seen Haitians on social media and in the country demanding to know, where is the money? Where is the Petrocaribe money? The inflation rate is 15 percent and the government's deficit is $89.6 milion and their local currency, the gourde, is it a freefall against a strong U.S. dollar. So today what we've seen is that for days now, over a week, they have had this country on lockdown — no schools, no businesses, nothing is moving. And so, where is this going? what's going to happen next? That's what's uncertain, unclear at this moment.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is the day to day life like when major cities are under lockdown?

  • Jacqueline Charles:

    There is almost no day to day life. I mean, I've been on the phones with individuals across the country and they tell you that they can't even get out to go find water that they are running out of basic supplies. You know, they don't know that if they dare venture out, are they going to run into looters? Are they going to have people throwing rocks at their at their cars? Because that's been happening, they've been vandalizing, they've been looting, the Haitian National Police. They are there they are doing the best they can with these guys that work nonstop February 7. We do not have today United Nations' international peacekeeping force because they've left. There are some foreign police units on the ground but basically this has all been in the hands of the Haitian National Police to control.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How much of this is motivated by the political opposition? And who's implicated in some of this corruption? Is the president now on the hook for some of the corruption that happened perhaps even in the administration before him?

  • Jacqueline Charles:

    Well, yes. This president here he was brought into power under the banner of P.H. T.K., that is the party of former President Michel Martelly and his party is very well implicated in this corruption, as well as people who are among the advisers to the president. Even the president's former chief of staff, the president himself has been named. And a report, the initial report that was issued by the government auditors, in terms of his company having received some of this funding from Venezuela.

    But I have to tell you, there are real frustrations and real anger in Haiti especially by the young people. And when I say young I'm talking about individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s who today see no hope, they see no way out. They are increasingly not believing in the ballot box. And so there's a huge apathy when it comes to elections. And so you've seen this that even the woman on the street, they are selling charcoal. Every time something goes wrong she's saying you know what, it's because of Petrocaribe.

    But the unfortunate reality is today that prices have gone up, there is a brewing humanitarian crisis, hospitals are not having the supplies that they need. And once this is all over, the question is, even if the President Jovenel Moïse doesn't leave, will he be able to govern? And if he does go, what is the plan of the opposition? We have not heard anything from them in terms of how they are going to alleviate the fundamental issue, which is the economic crisis that the Haitian population is enduring right now.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, thanks so much.

  • Jacqueline Charles:

    Thank you.

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