Tens of thousands of people took to the streets for 10 days beginning Feb. 7 in every major city of Haiti — Cap Haïtien, Jeremie, Gonaïves, Jacmel and the capital, Port-au-Prince. In a series of hungry, angry marches they demanded President Jovenel Moïse resign.
Haitians want enough income to pay their rent, feed their families and send their kids to school. French TV reported people lining up to buy propane for their stoves, water to drink, gasoline for their generators and cars, and whatever food they could scare up from depleted supermarket shelves.
Protesters set up flaming barricades of tires and trash and burned fancy cars and government vehicles. Even after police fired at them, they kept returning to the streets; people would disperse and then regroup. The cops reported that they killed seven people and injured dozens.
The protests did not let up until Feb. 16.
Besides demanding Moïse resign, protesters want to know: “Where is the PetroCaribe money?” Beginning in 2005 under President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela financed an alliance that gave Caribbean and Latin America nations low-cost oil and loans for economic development. The PetroCaribe Alliance eventually spread to 17 countries.
Haiti joined in 2006 — much to the displeasure of Washington — and after two years of back-and-forth struggle, the Haitians began to get some benefits. After the 2010 earthquake, ex-President Bill Clinton used his near-total control of Haitian finances to put the U.S.-backed candidate Michel Martelly in as president in the 2010-11 election. (All this maneuvering is documented in the Wikileaks reports published by Haïti-Liberté.)
Martelly used his position to embezzle, misspend and misplace about $4 billion of Haiti’s PetroCaribe Fund as documented by several Haitian Senate investigations. Then Martelly got his protégé Moïse in as his successor.
When the Trump administration started turning the economic screws on Venezuela in 2017, it affected Haiti. The Haitian government was already in arrears on its loan from Venezuela. Now the government had a good excuse to stop paying entirely and end the PetroCaribe deal.
Washington’s financial enforcer, the International Monetary Fund, had a solution for Haiti regarding this loss of funding: austerity. When Moïse tried to double the price of fuel in July 2018, the reaction was so sharp and militant that he backed down almost completely after three days. But the political and economic changes that losing PetroCaribe funding created led to the latest challenge to the U.S.-sanctioned Haitian regime.
The connections between Haiti and Venezuela are older and deeper than the PetroCaribe Fund. Simón Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, got money, arms and a printing press when he took refuge in Haiti after being forced out of Jamaica in 1816. The electoral victory of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 was an inspiration to Hugo Chávez in his electoral campaign of 1998.
Some progressive forces in the streets of Haiti are not only raising the issue of “Kote kob PetroCaribe a” but are also calling for solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution and saying Jovenel Moïse is Haiti’s Juan Guaidó. (For a video recorded in Creole, see tinyurl.com/y34pyh3c/.)
Haiti doesn’t have Venezuela’s oil reserves, but it does have a long history of resistance to Washington’s intrigues and attempts to control its destiny. Its dire situation shows what the U.S. has planned for Venezuela.