Anti-Government Protesters In Haiti Call For The President To Resign
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
After more than a week of violence and unrest, anti-government protests have quieted in the streets of Port-au-Prince, though the opposition is calling for them to resume. Demonstrators in Haiti's capital have been protesting high inflation and government corruption, and they've been calling for the nation's president to step down.
And now this - Haitian authorities have confirmed that they detained five U.S. citizens who were found with illegal weapons. Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles is in the Haitian capital. Hi, Jacqueline.
JACQUELINE CHARLES: Hi. How are you?
GREENE: I'm good, thanks. Thanks for taking the time for us this morning. Who are these U.S. citizens who are in custody?
CHARLES: Well, some of them are former members of the U.S. military. They're veterans. Another one, you know, had a contract - he's a subcontractor with the Department of Homeland Security. One of the guys also runs an off-road engineering firm. I mean, really what we're trying to find out is do they all work for some sort of private security firm, geopolitical conflict management firm? That hasn't been established yet.
These gentlemen were not talking when they were stopped by police on Sunday. They said that they were here on a, quote-unquote, "government mission." They did not specify which government, but then they did tell the police that somebody - their bosses was going to call their boss.
CHARLES: And so the implication there is that, you know, somebody high up. And I can tell you that members of the administration of President Jovenel Moise did try to get these gentlemen released from police custody, but that did not work.
GREENE: OK. So we're waiting for someone's boss to call someone's boss. And the big question is who they were working for, and what kind of government mission this might have been for them to be there with weapons, it sounds like, in the middle of demonstrations in another country?
CHARLES: Well, yeah. I mean, the demonstrations weren't going on at that time, but we were still in the midst of these, you know, protests that were happening. And they were found with at least 12 weapons - automatic rifles and pistols. There were a telescope, satellite machine, drones. I mean, these guys were very well-equipped.
GREENE: So whatever government or whoever they're working for will have a lot of questions to answer at some point, it sounds like. So can we move on to the situation in Haiti more broadly? I mean, what sparked these protests, and where do they stand at this point?
CHARLES: Well, as you mentioned, I mean, inflation here is 15 percent. The budget deficit is $89.6 million, and Haitians have seen their purchasing power just basically disappear. So - and prices have become even higher after these 10 days of being sheltered in place. On top of that, you have corruption allegations surrounding a Venezuelan oil program known as Petrocaribe. And it best can be described as - remember when oil was $100 a barrel?
CHARLES: Well, Haiti and other countries in Central and South - Central America and the Caribbean were allowed to buy oil from Venezuela at a discount price. They didn't have to pay it right away. They paid it over 25 years at a 1 percent interest rate. But that savings was supposed to go into social programs - housing, health care for the poor, education. Haitians say, you know what? I'm looking around, and I don't see it. They don't see where this money has gone. So they have been demanding an account.
So you not only have the opposition that has been asking for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, but within this, you have some young people in their 20s and 30s who are saying that, you know, they want, you know, an end to the corruption. They want a different kind of country.
GREENE: All right. And as we mentioned, the opposition is calling for the protests to resume. So this could all get started again. That's Jacqueline Charles - she's a reporter for the Miami Herald - reporting for us this morning in Haiti, answering a lot of questions about those demonstrations, including a tie to these Americans who were detained. Thanks so much for the time.
CHARLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.