Thousands of Haitians took to the streets of the capital, marching to the pounding rhythm of gunfire in a flurry of frustration Wednesday over a long-awaited protest denouncing mismanagement of state funds.
“We are protesting so we can come out of misery. The country is in a hole, and the government keeps stealing our money,” said protester Jean-Robert Roland.
Demonstrators called on government authorities to launch an investigation into allegations of embezzlement. A report released by the Senate implicated at least 14 former officials in the alleged misappropriation of some US$3.8 billion under the former administration.
Social groups, such as Vive Haiti and Patriotic Emergency, asked police to “avoid altercations with protesters.” However, police officers assured that acts of violence would not be tolerated and they would take all necessary measures to “guarantee the peace, security, and stability of the country.”
At least one person was killed during Wednesday’s protests and three were injured during the Port-au-Prince protest, authorities confirmed. The final toll of injuries and fatalities has not yet been reported.
Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant called on citizens to remain calm and to trust the government. "Everyone has the right to protest, but it has to be done with respect for each other," he added.
The day’s protest was reminiscent of those violent demonstrations conducted earlier this year which led to the death of at least seven people and the destruction and looting of dozens of businesses.
On July 6, the Haitian government announced an increase of 38 percent in gasoline prices, 27 percent in diesel prices and 51 percent in kerosene, but protests brought the process to a halt.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stressed that eliminating subsidies on fuel could liberate resources to finance social services and programs, but Haitians opposed the elimination, fearing an increase in fuel prices will translate into an increase in all other goods.
According to the World Bank, almost 60 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line and 24 percent are below the extreme poverty line.