MS Risk Blog

Haitian Prime Minister Jack Lafontant Resigns Following Violent Protests

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Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jack Lafontant, has resigned from his post following widespread protests against proposed fuel price rises. The Prime Minister is the second highest official in Haiti, only falling under current President Moïse who took office in March 2017.  Haiti has had a significant number of changes to its Prime Minister, having had 21 since 1988. The unrest broke out after Lafontant announced there would be significant price hikes on fuel, proposing to raise them by 38% for gasoline and 47% for diesel respectively. The fuel hikes were recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and were said to be needed for Haiti to be able to balance its budget. The proposed plan was for fuel subsidies to be scrapped in return for more assistance for Haiti by the IMF. When the price hikes were announced, plans for how the money would be spent on social services and compensating the poor and working classes were bizarrely not mentioned, further exacerbating the anger from the public.  The IMF says it is still expecting Haiti to lower fuel subsidies, but instead in a gradual manner and plans to create a revised reform plan in order to do so.

In response to the price hikes, protests began on July 6thand continued over the course of four days, with protestors burning cars, looting shops and lead to the closing off much of the country due to road blocks. Despite Lafontant cancelling the proposed price hikes, protests continues demanding his resignation and for President Moïse to cancel the price hikes permanently. A general strike then begun across the nation which ultimately shut down most of the country, with many Haitians refusing to go to work due to the dangers of being outside during the violent unrest. There have reportedly been seven deaths due to the violence. Journalists report seeing two people having been shot, however it is unclear who fired the shots. A former political candidate’s security guard also died in the violence, having been beaten to death after firing shots into the air at a roadblock in order to disperse protestors in attempts to pass through. The unrest caused a number of embassies to close, with the US embassy in Haiti having requested additional US Marines and State Department security personnel for protection. Airlines were also forced to suspended flights to Haiti amid the chaos, but were eventually restarted on July 10th.

Lafontant was summoned on July 14thto appear inform of the Chamber of Deputies for a vote of confidence, but instead used the opportunity to deliver his resignation speech. In the speech, Lafontant attacked the National Police of Haiti (PNH), and placed the blame on them for the events during riots. With Haiti’s army having been abolished in the 1990’s, the underpaid police were the only ones available to attempt to enforce order and were, unsurprisingly, unable to do so. The matter was made worse by the fact the police were given no prior warning of the announcement to increase fuel prices and were therefore utterly unprepared to deal with the unrest the announcement caused. There are conflicting reports as to when exactly Lafontant tendered his resignation. Whilst he himself claimed to have given his resignation to President Moïse prior to the parliamentary meeting. Other’s however speculate that he was forced to resign during the break in the meeting due to his abrupt change in demeanour upon his return. The unrest is estimated to have caused damages of 2% to Haiti’s GPD.

The unrest has been about much more than increasing fuel prices, but instead about issues of government corruption and anger towards foreign involvement in the Caribbean nation in general. For example, President Moïse was previously under investigation for money laundering prior to his inauguration in February 2017. The investigation was terminated after Moïse fired the head of the anti-corruption agency leading the inquiry. President Moïse is yet to announce who will be replacing Lafontant as the country’s Prime Minister almost two weeks after his resignation, with the country still waiting for a replacement.