Violence erupted in the Haitian capital and several other cities on Wednesday as demonstrators took to the streets to protest against gang violence and the high cost of living, targeting the country’s banking system and the acting prime minister. Ariel Henry.
At least one person has died in Port-au-Prince, and Zenith FM reporter Youly Destine reported being hit by a rubber bullet while live on the radio. At least two other people were also injured when police fired into the air to disperse the crowd, according to a Miami Herald correspondent at the scene.
Unconfirmed reports of injuries were also reported in the town of Jérémie, in the Grand’Anse department, where businesses were looted and bursts of automatic gunfire were reported as protesters clashed to the police. Demonstrations also took place in the towns of Saint-Marc, Jacmel and Port-de-Paix, where at least three people were injured by bullets.
In the city of Cap-Haitien, a journalist was also injured when police fired tear gas, bullets and water to disperse the crowd.
Culture journalist Luly Menard was standing on his balcony in the historic northern town when a bullet grazed him, his colleague Guyno Duverne says the Miami Herald..
“He’s not doing too badly,” said Duverne, who accompanied Ménard to the hospital. “He was treated and returned home.”
Duverne said that although the protest in Cap-Haitien did not draw the thousands of protesters that other protests have had over the past two weeks, Wednesday’s demonstration was large enough to paralyze traffic until 6:30 p.m. . As protesters marched through town, they threw rocks at money transfer businesses and banks.
The same was true in Port-au-Prince as they marched past 11 banks were along the protest routes, and police were there to guard against looting. The demonstrators chanted “We are fed up. Ariel must go,” as they covered the streets of the capital. They also said they were hungry and called for looting, which led to police firing gunshots in the air as well as tear gas.
Some demonstrators carried Russian flags to protest against the United States and ask for Russian support. They also called for Henry’s resignation as they stopped outside his official residence.
A police spokesman did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment on the reported protests, injuries and deaths.
Haitians have taken to the streets of cities across the country in recent weeks to protest the high cost of living, the deterioration of the gourde against the US dollar and a chronic shortage of fuel.
The last gathering was organized by the Pitit Desalin group. The leader of the organization, former senator and presidential candidate Moïse Jean-Charles, has threatened to close commercial banks if the exchange rate of the US dollar against the deteriorating gourde is not lower than 100 gourd.
The gourde has rapidly depreciated, reducing the purchasing power of Haitians as the cost of food increases by more than 50% and in some cases by 80%. Heavily dependent on dollars from its diaspora, Haitians only have access to dollars if they have US dollar bank accounts, otherwise wire transfers are issued in the local currency, which fluctuates daily and hovers above 100 gourdes for 1 US dollar. .
After leading protests in Cap-Haitien targeting the country’s commercial banks, Jean-Charles, once an ally of Henry, took his demands to the capital.
Henry has so far not responded to the protests. He flew to Miami on Wednesday where, according to a tweet from his office, he will meet with investors seeking opportunities in Haiti.
Haiti is currently experiencing an inflation rate of 30.5% and the economy remains fragile. Critics accused Henry of not acting quickly enough to deal with the deteriorating economic and political situation. Efforts to reach a political agreement with a coalition of civil society groups have so far failed, and some of his own allies in a deal he championed have also left his coalition.
Henry’s supporters point out that his political critics, including some politicians, are looking to take advantage of the situation given the government’s renewed efforts to crack down on illegal guns, tax evaders and contraband at its ports of entry. The government is also targeting the illegal sale of fuel on the streets as it struggles to meet the country’s needs. Earlier this week, residents of the northwestern city of Port-de-Paix blocked city streets with wooden furniture and burning tires to protest the government’s seizure of two ships carrying illegal arms and ammunition.
Also last week, Haitians used trucks to block the border crossing at Belladère in the Central Plateau, complaining that the government was charging too much for goods bought in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Miami Herald correspondent Johnny Fils-Aimé contributed to this report.