Why are there riots in Haiti?

In 2005, 14 Caribbean countries signed a series of bilateral agreements between Venezuela and participating countries, collectively referred to as PetroCaribe, which provide financing to allow those countries to buy oil at very favorable credit terms, with 40% of funds going to a development fund for social programs.

In November 2017, a Haitian senate commission released a preliminary report finding that PetroCaribe funds had been mismanaged and that the country owed Venezuela over $80 million in back-payments as of September 2016. Haitian activists have been demanding an audit of the PetroCaribe funds, using the #PetroCaribeChallenge hashtag, as well as sit-ins and demonstrations in the capitol, Port-au-Prince.

President Trump’s concurrent economic sanctions against Venezuela gave Haiti an excuse not to pay. In January 2019, Haiti’s governing party decided not to recognize the re-election of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, siding with the U.S. and many other Western democracies. (Haiti is in the minority: 12 of 15 other Caribbean countries are criticizing the U.S. recognition of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as “carrying out a coup d’ etat.”)

In January 2019, Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors released a report of nearly $2 billion in misappropriated PetroCaribe funds, with another report due in April. The Guardian reports that now almost $4 billion in funding from PetroCaribe, earmarked for social development, seems to have gone missing. Anger at government corruption, amidst the extreme poverty of the country (about 59% live under the national poverty line) and the 15% inflation rate, has exploded into riots and violence leading to a country on lockdown with businesses, schools, and public transit shut down, roads barricaded, and hospitals struggling with lack of supplies.

Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise (whose 2015 election was thrown out due to fraud, and whose election in 2016 with 21% voter turnout also sparked protests over suspected election shenanigans and money-laundering allegations), is refusing to step down and blaming the prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, who he chose to be PM in August 2018 after the previous PM, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned over the fuel riots happening then. PM Ceant announced Saturday that government officials would lose perks like vehicles, phone cards, and paid travel in anti-corruption measures including a full audit, and promises to speak with factory owners about increasing the minimum wage.

The U.S. is considering sending food aid to Haiti to help address what is turning into a humanitarian crisis. The Miami Herald characterizes the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti as “a cooling of tensions” due to Haiti siding with Washington on the issue of who should rule Venezuela.

The U.S. is also attempting to send food and medicine to Venezuela against the wishes of Maduro but with the support of Guaidó.