Protests subside, but economic aftershocks rattle Haitians

Protests subside, but economic aftershocks rattle Haitians

Saturday, December 07, 2019

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)— The flaming barricades are mostly gone, protesters have largely dissipated and traffic is once again clogging the streets of Haiti's capital, but hundreds of thousands of people are now suffering deep economic aftershocks after more than two months of demonstrations.

The protests that drew tens of thousands of people at a time to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Mose also squeezed incomes, shuttered businesses and disrupted the transportation of basic goods.

“We are nearing a total crash,” Haitian economist Camille Chalmers said. “The situation is unsustainable.”

Haiti's economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiralling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Mose insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti's currency, the gourde, declined 60 per cent against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20 per cent, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60 per cent make less than US$2 a day and 25 per cent earn less than US$1 a day.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The 39-year-old father of three children said he now struggles to buy milk and vegetables.

“I feed the kids, but they're not eating the way they're supposed to,” he said, adding that he has drained the funds set aside for his children's schooling to buy food.

A growing number of families across Haiti can't even afford to do that since the protests began, with barricades preventing the flow of goods between the capital and the rest of the country.

Many of those live in Haiti's rural areas, which also have been hardest hit by demonstrations that continue in some cities and towns.


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