What Caused The Unrest In Haiti
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A political crisis in Haiti has already claimed the lives of at least three people and led to mass government resignations. Over the weekend, people took to the streets protesting a spike in gas prices. The prime minister and members of his cabinet stepped down. And at least one U.N. official says international organizations bear some responsibility for the policies that have enraged Haitians. With us now is Jacqueline Charles, a reporter for the Miami Herald who's been following the story closely. Hi there.
JACQUELINE CHARLES: Hi.
SHAPIRO: There's a bit of history to unpack here. Since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti's government has artificially kept gas prices low. And on Friday, they jumped by as much as 50 percent. Why did the government raise prices so abruptly?
CHARLES: Well, the government entered into an agreement with the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. And basically, as part of this agreement, the IMF said, listen, you need to raise your gas prices because you're coming to us to get some assistance from donors such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. But in order for us to do that, we need you to do some economic reforms. So raising gas prices was part of a reform package that the international community was requesting of the Haitian government.
SHAPIRO: And why did that lead to these huge protests?
CHARLES: Well, you know, I have to tell you, I think that the way the government handled this, on top of the fact that we're talking about double-digit increases where you saw kerosene, which is used mostly by the poor to light their homes - it went up by 51 percent, gasoline, 38 percent, and diesel, 47 percent - the people were basically taken off guard.
There had been talk for months that the government would raise fuel prices, but they chose to do it at the last minute on a Friday during the World Cup game as Brazil was playing Belgium. Haitians are huge Brazil fans. They were distracted by the game. And I guess some people in the government thought that this would lessen the impact. Well, within 10 minutes of the game, it was announced. And as soon as the game was over, within five minutes barricades were going up all over Haiti, not just in Port-au-Prince.
Some of the barricades were burning tires. Some of them were, you know, rocks, vehicles, whatever people could find. They basically blocked off main roads. And it was a sign of protest. I mean, it was just too much. I mean, this is a country that really has not recovered economically since the earthquake. Inflation is over 12.5 percent as of May. It is deeply indebted. It has a $2 billion debt right now. And at the same time, it's giving away at least 160 million in these artificially low gas prices.
SHAPIRO: And now the prime minister and more than a dozen members of his cabinet have resigned. The government has undone that price hike. Where does that leave things?
CHARLES: Yeah. So interesting enough, the government undone the price hike within less than 24 hours. But there were still demands for the prime minister and his cabinet to resign just for the poor handling of this. So as we speak now, the president is continuing with some consultations and dialogues to see who he will pick to be the next prime minister.
And whoever comes in in charge of this next government, they're going to have to show the Haitian population that they are serious about cleaning up some of the waste, looking at other revenue streams and basically get the buy-in from the population where the population says, OK, we now understand why we need to raise gas prices. And we see that you're working to get revenue from elsewhere. We see that you were trying to provide services. Because at the end of the day, the fear with the population is that you're going to raise these gas prices, but we're not going to get anything for it.
SHAPIRO: That's Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. Thanks for joining us today.
CHARLES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.