A man carries a sign that reads: "Banks are not innocent in our misery" during a protest to demand that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 7, 2022.
Protests have broken out this week in Haiti following a sharp increase in gas and fuel prices across the country. The price hike comes as Prime Minister Ariel Henry tries to curb economic issues in the country and save $400 million in fuel subsidies. "We're going to raise the gas price to ensure the government collects enough money to keep the country running. We can't keep on subsidizing gas for people who can pay full price and buy the gas to sell it on the black market," he said. Henry worries about having substantial funds to keep public administration alive and having enough left over to pay back the debt Haiti owes. He is also aware that the public has relied on the government utilizing revenue from gas sales after the Petrocaribe scandal.
The current protests are the culmination of over a year of turmoil for the Caribbean nation and are proving to be the worst in recent history. The Haitian Parliament was dissolved in January 2020, leaving then president Jovenel Moise to rule by decree, which is the second time in the last six years the country has been without a legislature. To hold an election, there must be a legislature to approve electoral laws, and there must also be an elections council. Without an election, most of the parliament's terms expired, allowing the president to rule unilaterally.
After 18 months without a parliament and amid a constitutional crisis, Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021. The constitutional crisis was caused after the last election in 2016, when he was elected to a five-year term but could not assume the office for a year because the election results were disputed. Moïse claimed his term started when he took office, while his opponents argued that his term began on the date he would have taken office had the results not been disputed. The assassination was carried out under suspicious circumstances, leaving 20 Columbians and two Haitian-Americans implicated. Interviews with those involved have revealed the assassination had been planned for months in Miami and that none of Moïse's personal guards had been injured in the attack. The Haitian government's leading theory is that Christian Sanon, a doctor and pastor, planned to take control of the country after Moïse’s death, though how he planned to do this is unclear.
Haiti remains without a legislature or election council to this day, as the council was dismissed in September of 2021. Henry dismissed the electoral council members because of the concern that the council was too partisan and was not trusted by many Haitians. Henry said of the decision, "We have made the decision today to halt this electoral council and form another one, one that will be more consensual and one that will be accepted by all of society.
Then, five weeks after the assassination, on August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, near the city of Les Cayes. This earthquake resulted in over 13,000 casualties and left tens of thousands homeless. The natural disaster, along with political turmoil, has weakened Haiti's teetering institutions and made the distribution of food and other resources immensely complicated. Combined with soaring inflation, the situation in Haiti remains precarious and has been described as the worst unrest since the fall of Papa Doc's Regime in 1986.
It is sufficient to say that the situation in Haiti has been volatile, and the recent gas hike has only added to the animosity felt toward the government. Inflation is currently around 30%, so what little patience people still have is being stretched thinner every day. Several food warehouses have been raided, including 1400 metric tons of food from the United Nations Food Program. There have also been calls to attack commercial banks and block access to Varreux, the country's largest oil terminal.
A resolution to the unrest does not seem in sight as armed gangs are wrestling control from the police and government, and more people do not trust that the latter will do anything to alleviate the crisis. The United Nations approved a mandate to limit the flow of arms and improve security at the ports to collect as much as $600 million in lost revenues. Without an election in years or a functioning legislature, there is unlikely to be an end to this conflict for years.