The Petro Caribe Challenge hashtag meant to express outrage at the Haitian government embezzling $2 billion in Petrocaribe funds.
The Petro Caribe Challenge Hashtag
The #PetroCaribeChallenge, a Hashtag meant to express outrage at the Haitian government embezzling $2 billion in PetroCaribe funds, is slowly evolving into full-fledged protests. On August 24, 2018, Haitians protest to call for an investigation into the alleged misuse of Venezuela-sponsored PetroCaribe funds by previous administrations, in Port-au-Prince. PetroCaribe was an agreement by Venezuela, with 13 Caribbean countries on July 29, 2005. The objective of PetroCaribe was to alleviate the burden of rising oil prices and its negative impact on Caribbean countries. The countries under the agreement were allowed to purchase 185,000 barrels of oil per day on preferential terms.
Additionally, these nations could settle their debt to Venezuela using goods and services. During the period of Haitian President Rene Preval it was decided as per the agreement that Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60% up-front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1% interest. This oil support from Venezuela was the key in providing basic needs and services to 10 million Haitians, securing a guaranteed supply of oil at stable prices and a basis for relief from the dependence on oil from the U.S.
Since 2008, Venezuela has provided nearly $1.9 billion in petroleum products, with over $800 million being paid up-front. Following the earthquake, Venezuela cancelled some $400 million of PetroCaribe debt, yet with large disbursements since the earthquake, Haiti still owes some $580 million. While significant resources have already been spent, Haiti maintains a balance of $350 million in PetroCaribe funds.
The administrations that controlled the PetroCaribe fund are currently under an investigation for corruption. Also, the funds in question have grown to more than 4 million dollars. Consequently, the public has exploded in protest to the government decision in July to increase fuel prices by as much as 51 percent. A report detailed that $1.7 billion worth of no-bid contracts was given by the Haitian government between 2008 and 2016. The projects, which included government ministries, housing for the poor and a new parliament building, were all awarded using PetroCaribe money. Contracts were signed and paid, but many of the projects were never completed. A company named GTC Construction firm received $ 21 million or over 95 percent of the total cost of the project for performing only 8 km road or 44 percent of the work. Moreover, a new contract was signed by the MPCE with the same construction company for $ 45 million with also PetroCaribe funds.
Following an official notice of fuel price increases at the pump by the Government of Haiti, violent protests erupted. Major casualties include Deli-Mart, a major supermarket. Several cars parked in front of Hotel Best Western and Royal Oasis were burned to the ground.Barricade erupted in many streets, including the road to the only airport, preventing people from flying out of the country.
On Friday, July 6, 2018, when the civilians were busy with the Russia quarter-final world cup matches, the Government quietly published an official notice of fuel price hike at the pumps. As per government statement, this was done in order to comply with the IMF's "Staff-Monitored Program" (SMP) signed last February. Haitian daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste reports, prices for gasoline were to rise 38% while diesel prices were to go up 47% and kerosene 51%. The revised prices for the petroleum products, effective from July 7, 2018, in Haitian Currency, will be as follows (per gallon): Gasoline: 309 Gourdes; Diesel: 264 Gourdes; and Kerosene: 262 Gourdes. Before the rise, the prices for these products were: gasoline 224 gourdes; diesel 179 Gourds and kerosene 173 Gourdes.
The announcement triggered days of violent civil unrest, demonstrations erupted on Friday in Port-au-Prince. Western Premiere hotel in Petion-Ville was ransacked, banks and stores in Delmas were looted, many flights were either cancelled or rescheduled. Three people were killed on Friday as protesters used burning tires and barricades to block major streets. Demonstrations also broke out in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, as well as in the communes of Les Cayes, Jacmel and Petit-Goave. Following the riots, Haiti's Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned on Saturday. As per last news, the Haitian government bowed to pressure and suspended the fuel price hike on Saturday after widespread violence.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told during a briefing, generalized fuel subsidy put a significant strain on Haiti's fiscal accounts. Earlier this year, Haiti signed a $96 million low interest agreement with the IMF and reduction of subsidy was one of the terms of that agreement. The country is currently facing double-digit inflation, a depreciating currency and slow growth. It also has a budget deficit of more than $150 million.
Gasoline affect many thing in Haiti. Due to the economic condition of the population, the Haitian Government has been subsidizing the price of petroleum products in the country. This practice was able to maintain a level of stability for many years. However, the Government of Michel Martelly has made the decision not to subsidize the price of gasoline and to let the price fluctuated based on the international market
There is one major problem with this. There has not been any improvement in the economic situation of the Haitian population. The unemployment rate remains at over 70 percent