Haiti protesters vow to return to streets on Friday

Haiti protesters vow to return to streets on Friday
By Reuters
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By Anthony Esposito

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The cacophony of sirens, horns and street vendors in Haiti's capital was quieter than usual this week as residents remained on edge after recent anti-government protests, which organizers have promised will start again on Friday.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and the island nation's other main cities for days of protests that began on Feb. 7, calling for President Jovenel Moise to resign amid ballooning inflation, a weakening currency and allegations of misused funds.

"The protests hurt my business. We're frustrated and the people are still scared," said 33-year old Jocelyn Alexis, a street vendor in the city centre.

Other small business owners said that customers were still staying away after the recent protests turned violent, even though the marches died down this week.

Opposition leaders are calling for an independent probe into the whereabouts of funds from the PetroCaribe agreement, an alliance between Caribbean countries, including Haiti, and Venezuela.

The agreement's preferential terms for energy purchases were meant to help free up funds to aid development in Haiti, a poor country habitually hammered by natural disasters.

"The fight will continue ... we will continue to seek the president's resignation, and we need to have a PetroCaribe probe because we need to end the corruption in this country that has allowed a small minority to get majority of wealth," said opposition leader Andre Michel.

"The new protests are set for Friday," he said. "The fight will start again."

In an address from the presidential palace on Feb. 14, Moise struck a combative note and defied calls for his ouster, saying he would not hand the country over to drug traffickers and that dialogue was the only way to stop a civil war.

Haiti has a long tradition of corruption and international partners and anti-graft watchdogs have often blamed Haitian politicians for failing to crack down on the scourge.

The government's "mismanagement of the economy" has also fuelled Haitians' frustrations, said economist Kesner Pharel at consultancy Group Croissance.

Annual inflation of 15 percent as of December and a currency that weakened nearly 20 percent versus the dollar last year, and continued to depreciate in 2019, has made buying basic necessities more difficult in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

"People are living in misery. We won't stop until we get what we need. We need better leaders in government that give people hope. Until then the battle will continue," said senator Evalliere Beauplan.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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