Haiti carnival season start descends into gunfire and violent protests

Clashes break out between military and police

Armed off-duty police officers protest over pay and working conditions, in Port-au-Prince Haiti close to the presidential palace, on 23 February 2020
Armed off-duty police officers protest over pay and working conditions, in Port-au-Prince Haiti close to the presidential palace, on 23 February 2020

Police in Haiti took to the streets on Sunday in violent protests during which shots and tear gas were fired near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, two Reuters witnesses said, as anger over their pay and conditions swelled.

The police protest on the first day of Carnival, one of several since the end of last year, took place as the impoverished Caribbean island nation struggles with a prolonged economic and political crisis.

“No money for police officers but enough money for Carnival,” protesters shouted. It was the final straw after a series of other challenges, they said, including inadequate pay and conditions, redundancies and lack of benefits.

“We’ll continue to demonstrate,” said one masked protester who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal. Local television showed footage of two cars set on fire while local radio reported several were wounded and one died.

It was not immediately clear who fired the shots or the gas during the protest that clashed with the celebrations for Carnival. A stage built by the Ministry of Defence and guarded by the army was also set on fire, a Reuters witness said.

Some protesters wore cream and blue police uniforms and carried guns, but had their faces covered, when they marched from the upscale Delmas neighbourhood toward the large Champ de Mars public square, the main site for Carnival.

There, a marching band was playing while spectators and performers were getting ready for a much-anticipated colourful celebration. In the country’s second-largest city Cap-Haitien, Haitians also voiced anger over the expense.

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise has been ruling by decree since January, after the mandates of lower house deputies and most senators formally expired without successors in October after the country failed to hold elections.

The political situation has cut Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, off from some international funding. This has further hindered its ability to respond to the worsening economic crisis, including food shortages.

One in three Haitians, around 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance, up from 2.6 million people at the end of 2018. Haiti ranks 111 out of 117 countries on the Global Hunger Index, near poor sub-Saharan African countries.

Reuters

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