On Friday, July 6, Haitian protesters took to the streets in widespread demonstrations against proposed cost hike in gas (and gas products) in the country. The hike, which was scheduled to take effect on Saturday, was placed on hold by the government, though it’s unclear if it will be reintroduced at a later date. The hike itself was the brainchild of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which included it as one of the conditionalities to Haiti receiving a loan of $96 million dollars. In essence, the IMF argued that Haiti should stop subsidizing gas products and start taxing them instead. Part of the argument is that Haiti is in desperate need of tax revenue to run the country, and this is a clear and present opportunity. Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, currently taxes gas products close or near the proposed rates in Haiti.
So why are people in the streets? Unlike their neighbors in the Dominican Republic, Haitians earn a mere $2 per day, if they are lucky. The imminent gas tax hike represents the latest in a long-line of terrible neoliberal and neocolonial policies foisted upon the nation by a ruling class outside the country. With shades of the Boston Tea Party, Haitians are refusing to be taxed by outside forces (the IMF and other neoliberal colonizers). So it’s not just the tax. Haiti is a heavily indebted country, yet 98% of the population can’t tell you and can’t see how they’ve benefited from this debt. Hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, yet everyday conditions have not changed for 98% of the population. In June 2011, the government began taxing international calls and money transfers to finance primary education in the country, yet education is still not freely available in the country.
Now the majority has had enough. Enough of fraudulent elections. Enough of loans taken on the backs of the majority. Enough of squeezing blood from stone. Enough of incompetence, mismanagement and opaque governance.
And enough of the republic of Port-au-Prince, as conditions in Haiti have led to rural flight to urban and peri-urban areas. Those same conditions have also spurred migration to the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Chile. Yet the solution to one of the country’s most trenchant problem, high unemployment, is mere miles from Port-au-Prince: agriculture. Grassroots International partners, who are leading the movement for transformative structural change in Haiti, call for investment in local production to reduce dependency on foreign imports, in agroecology to promote biodiversity and mitigate soil erosion, and in in the peasantry where they live by giving them access to government services. In other words, Haitian movements are calling on the government to align its priorities with the needs of the majority! So in light of all this, 98% of the population can’t afford the gas hike.
In the meantime, unions and Haiti’s opposition have called for two days of general strike across the country, and the call has been headed. Major cities and towns such as Port-au-Prince, Port-de-Paix, Cap-Haitien, Les Cayes and Arcahaie are now paralyzed. People aren’t getting in nor out of those cities, including our partners who are sheltering in place. Airline companies suspended flights over the weekend, and slowly resumed Sunday.
Meanwhile, the fate of the current administration is in question. It’s unclear if the president, who has never held political office, can survive this very public show of no-confidence. But the majority isn’t waiting for him to read the tea leaves, they’re also telling him in plain words, “Nou bouke” (We’re tired) and “Aba Jovenel” (Down with Jovenel).