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Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigns

July 15, 2018

After IMF-mandated fuel price hikes triggered riots that resulted in at least four deaths, Haitian PM Guy Lafontant has resigned. Now the president is searching for a way to appease consumers, politicians and economists.

Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant addressing the lower house of the Haitian parliament
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Jean

Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned on Saturday after at least four people died in violence and looting sparked by a now abandoned plan to raise fuel prices.

"I submitted my resignation to the president of the republic," who has "accepted my resignation," Lafontant said in the lower house of Haiti's legislature.

Lafontant would have faced a potential vote of no confidence had he not resigned.

The latest series of events began last week when the government announced plans for major fuel price hikes — 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene.

The announcement triggered mass protests, with streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities blocked by barricades of debris and burning tires.

Dozens of stores were looted and burned and cars were set ablaze. The government quickly did an about-face and called off the planned price increases.

Lafontant, a physician who had little political experience before taking office in February 2017, had faced widespread criticism even before the most recent violence.

The German Foreign Ministry currently advises against nonurgent travel to Haiti. The US State Department also currently has a travel advisory for the Caribbean nation. 

Port-au-Prince protests
Haiti is desperately poor and price hikes on anything are felt immediatelyImage: Getty Images/AFP/H. Retamal

Impoverished nation

Around 60 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day, and they are extremely sensitive to even minor increases in consumer prices.

In February, Haiti signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in which the country committed to carrying out economic and structural reforms to promote growth.

One of those conditions was the elimination of petroleum product subsidies, which led to the doomed price hike proposal. The accord also called on the government to keep inflation under 10 percent.

On Thursday, the IMF suggested "a more gradual approach" to ending fuel subsidies, paired with "compensatory and mitigating measures to protect the most vulnerable people."

"We will continue to support Haiti... as they develop a revised reform strategy," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said, noting that ending subsidies would free up funds for other programs like education.

The decision to get rid of the price hikes means that the government will have to find another way to come up with the $300 million the move would have generated.

The total is more than 11 percent of the 2018-2019 budget, which was presented to parliament in June for debate.

Now, President Jovenel Moise has to find a way to appease all parties — angry and impatient consumers, politicians with varying interests and IMF economists.

Haiti's glaring inequality is often cited by critics who want to see not just Lafontant but Moise out of office.

Two hundred years after gaining independence from France, Haiti is still ranked by the World Bank as having one of earth's most unjust societies.

av/sms  (AFP, AP)

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