PORT-AU-PRINCE – One man was killed and another wounded Thursday as thousands took to the streets of the Haitian capital in a renewed effort to force the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.
An unknown person shot the two men as they were trying to rob people taking part in a protest near the National Palace, a police officer told Efe at the scene.
The wounded survivor was taken away in a Red Cross ambulance, while the dead man was left lying in the street.
Thursday’s mobilization, billed by organizers as a day of “general uprising,” began with a large gathering in the middle of Port-au-Prince.
Avenue Delmas, where most of the foreign embassies are located, was rendered impassible by barricades, rocks and trees, while piles of tires were set ablaze in the main marketplace of the affluent capital suburb of Petion-Ville.
The demonstrations coincided with Dessalines Day, which marks the Oct. 17, 1806, assassination of one of Haiti’s founding fathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
One group of protesters marched to the Champs de Mars, a park opposite the National Palace that includes a monument to Dessalines, while a smaller contingent set out for the US Embassy.
The first group were turned away from the palace by a score of riot police, but the presence of the protesters forced Moise to move the official Dessalines Day observance indoors.
While the current round of demonstrations began a month ago, spurred by fuel shortages, Haiti has seen multiple outbursts of popular discontent since Feb. 7, the second anniversary of Moise’s 2017 inauguration.
At least 26 people died in disturbances growing out of the protests in February, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Haiti’s schools and universities have been closed for the last month and economic activity has ground nearly to a halt.
In a surprise speech on Tuesday, Moise said he would not resign and called again on the opposition to come to the table for talks.
The president’s stance not only angered the opposition, it prompted the resignation Wednesday of four of the seven members of a committee Moise named to promote a political dialogue.
The committee chair, former Prime Minister Evans Paul, was among those who quit.
“I am in disagreement with the speech the president made yesterday, which does not facilitate our work,” Paul told Efe Wednesday by telephone. “The president was very categorical in saying that he won’t resign, while he told us that he was ready to put everything on the table for the dialogue.”
The main force behind the protests is the Democratic and Popular Sector, an alliance of opposition groups that blame the head of state for Haiti’s worsening economic crisis.
The struggles of the poorest nation in the Americas have been exacerbated this year by a sharp depreciation of the gourde and constant power outages stemming from fuel shortages.
Unemployment is above 50 percent and more than half of Haiti’s roughly 10 million inhabitants survive on less than $2 a day.
The country’s economy expanded by just 1.4 percent in 2018, a growth rate that was one of the lowest in the region and far below the 2.2 percent forecast at the beginning of last year.
During the protests, demonstrators also have demanded prosecution of officials for embezzlement of funds accumulated through Haiti’s participation in Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program.
The South American country has long supplied oil to Caribbean countries on favorable financing terms, with much of the bill payable over 25 years at an interest rate of just 1 percent.
The idea of the program was to enable the Haitian government to take advantage of the long repayment schedule and use proceeds from domestic oil sales to finance public-works projects.
But an audit unveiled in February by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed irregularities in that program between 2008 and 2016 and implicated 15 current and former officials – as well as a company Moise headed before becoming president – in the scandal.