Anti-Government Protests in Haiti Linked with Venezuela’s PetroCaribe Program

Interview with Kim Ives, an editor with the Haiti Liberté newspaper, conducted by Scott Harris

Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Haiti beginning Feb. 7, where clashes with police left nine dead and dozens injured. Haitians angry about rising prices, high inflation, unemployment and corruption charges against President Jovenel Moise have demanded he step down. Protesters attacked the presidential palace and attempted to block  access to the capital’s airport.
During the unrest, Haitian police detained five U.S. citizens and two Serbians who were carrying heavy weapons in unmarked vehicles. The Haitian government released the group, which included military veterans and mercenaries, allowing them to return to the U.S. without charges. This fueled suspicions across Haiti that the men were part of a covert operation gone wrong.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Kim Ives, an editor with the Haiti Liberté newspaper, who talks about the current anti-government protests in Haiti that are linked with corruption charges surrounding funds embezzled or misspent from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil-discount program. Savings from the program were supposed to be invested in social programs for the poor after Haiti was devastated by the 2010 earthquake.  

KIM IVES: The principle call has become for Jovenel Moise to step down. It has really morphed into that since the protests began last summer, demanding “What happened to the $4 billion of Venezuela petro dollars which Haiti benefited from over the last decade.” To step back, I guess we need to do a little historical review. These demonstrations today are very similar to what happened 33 years ago when Jean-Claude Duvalier left. He was the second of two so-called “presidents for life.” His father Francois Papa Doc Duvalier died in ’71 and passed the title and dictatorship onto his son. And basically for three decades, for 30 years, from 1957 to ’86, they ruled Haiti with an iron fist. And a lot of resentment and anger grew and exploded. Finally, in November of 1985 Jean-Claude (Duvalier) had to flee the country on a U.S.-supplied Air Force plane with his fast cars and his wife’s minks and went to a golden exile in France.

But that was really the beginning of five years of very tumultuous government instability. Demonstrations in the street. And the result was in December, 1990 the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an anti-imperialist liberation theology priest. The Haitians underwent a coup d’etat after that. And for Aristide’s re-election in 2000, a second coup d’etat, both followed by foreign military occupations by the United Nations. Nonetheless, good victory of Dec. 16, 1990 really marked the kickoff of what was the Pink Tide in Latin America, because following Haiti’s example, Hugo Chavez (in Venezuela), Evo Morales (in Bolivia), Rafael Correa (in Ecuador), a number of other progressive and even revolutionary presidents came to power. We could even include Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in Brazil in that category. The Venezuelan government, as your listeners surely know also had the coup d’etat against it in 2002 against Hugo Chavez, which the Venezuelan people turned back, also thanks in large measure to the intervention of the rank and file of the Venezuelan army.

Chavez really realized that they were going to just keep coming for him and he said, we have to build bridges. We have to help these other countries to come and join us in building 21st century socialism in Latin America. And so, he began a program called the PetroCaribe program whereby he would give nations cheap oil, great credit and thereby help them in a period when oil was selling for a $100 a barrel. Haiti signed on to this deal in 2006. It took them two years to really get everything in place because of the resistance of the U.S. Embassy and the State Department, who were fighting them behind the scenes every step of the way. And, through a lot of different maneuvers, they managed to get into power a neo-Duvalierist president, a guy called Michel Martelly. Anyway, Martelly came in and for the five years that he was in office, the majority of this PetroCaribe fund was plundered.

It was about $4 billion worth of petro dollars, which were generated. Some of those were paid to Venezuela, but many of them went into this PetrocCaribe fund. Two Senate investigations found that at least $2 million of it was embezzled, stolen, misspent, just plain lost in some cases. Jovenel Moise, who is the current president, had an agribusiness, which basically is a shell company, a fake business. He was laundering millions of dollars through this agribusiness firm and came into office indicted for that money laundering. He had his agribusiness being given millions of dollars to fix a road and do other infrastructure work, none of what he did.

On Jan. 10, 2019, the Jovenel Moise government voted to stick a knife in the back of the Venezuelans when they voted with Washington saying that Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate. Here’s the guy (Jovenel Moise) who came into power with only 19 percent of the electorate taking part in the election. There was a very controversial election and he’s calling Nicolas Maduro, who won close to 70 percent of the vote in his country, even without the opposition members in it in that vote. So the (Haitian) people just said, “That’s it. We’re going out.” And hence on Feb. 7, which is the anniversary of Jean Claude’s departure 33 years ago, they came out in the streets and that began basically 10 days of what they called “Haiti Lock”. Haiti was locked down, nothing was working, schools, stores, streets, everything was stopped, stopped, stopped, burning barricades everywhere. The country was in flames. The rebellion has taken what they were saying, a little break. They are getting a little breath. Carnival is next week on March 5, but it is a extremely combustible situation right after Carnival or maybe when the second part of the accounting court report comes out in April, this thing is going to flare up and maybe that may be the end. I think Jovenel is on extremely thin ice.

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