Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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Haiti sees more protests as hike in fuel prices fuels public anger

The Haitian government’s decision to hike fuel costs fuels ongoing anger over gang violence and soaring inflation.

People have taken to the streets in several cities across Haiti after the government announced a significant increase in fuel prices that will put further pressure on a population already grappling with rising costs of living.

Haitian authorities announced on Wednesday that the price of gas will more than double, with slightly smaller hikes for diesel and kerosene.

The government, which controls gas prices, did not say when the new prices would take effect, but tweeted that “Haiti’s prices are significantly lower than those in the international market.”

The Ministry of Communications also said on Twitter that the cost of importing petroleum products “is 9 billion gourden [$76.2m] per month twice as much as the monthly state payroll”.

Protesters blocked roads throughout the capital, Port-Au-Prince, closing normally busy areas of the city to traffic. Schools and shops were closed while roads were blocked with stones, vehicles and burning tires.

The demonstrations are the latest to rock the Caribbean nation, which is grappling with rising inflation as well as an escalation in gang-related violence.

“It’s a very challenging time for Haiti right now,” Haitian journalist Harold Isaac told Al Jazeera around noon. Haitians are also grappling with rising inflation, he said, amid heightened uncertainty following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

“We’re facing a number of crises, the last being the gas crisis, which has made life really, really difficult for people here,” Isaac said, adding that some Haitians have had to resort to smugglers to get fuel — often even excessive costs.

“As it is now, it’s practically impossible to get gas at gas stations,” he said.

The government justifies the price increase by saying that it is no longer sustainable to subsidize fuel as heavily as it used to.

Haiti had previously obtained its oil from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which was shut down a few years ago. Since then it has helped subsidize local dealers who import fuel.

Some have expressed concern that the newly announced price hike, which will see the price of a gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline rise from around $2 to $4.78, will prompt some Haitians to leave the country. Many people in Haiti depend on fuel not only for transportation but also for electricity and cooking.

Marc Andre, a 28-year-old mototaxi driver, told The Associated Press that he was considering crossing the border into the neighboring Dominican Republic to seek work as a construction worker.

“Most people won’t be able to afford the price I’m going to ask,” he said. “I’d best leave the country.”

Haiti is grappling with an inflation rate of 30 percent and escalating violence from armed gangs. Two Haitian journalists were murdered and their bodies burned while covering escalating violence in a Port-Au-Prince neighborhood over the weekend.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry warned in a national address on Monday that fuel prices would rise and urged residents to be patient.

“The country has many problems,” Henry said. “I urge everyone to remain calm. The government works with what it has.”

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