PORT-AU-PRINCE Feb 2 Traffic was minimal in the
normally clogged streets of Haiti's capital on Monday, after a
key minibus drivers union called a two-day general strike to
protest high fuel prices.
"The price of gasoline has fallen on the world market, but
in Haiti, the poorest country in the world, the authorities do
not follow this trend," said Fritzner Jean, who drives a
colorful pickup-turned-minibus, known locally as "tap-tap", the
Caribbean nation's main form of public transport.
"We want the state to really lower prices because it's too
expensive for us. Look at the hunger that prevails in the
country. We cannot tolerate that," Jean said.
In an effort to avoid the strike, the government announced
lower fuel prices on Friday, with gasoline dropping to 200
gourdes ($4.30) per gallon from 215 ($4.62), and diesel down to
167 ($3.59) from 177 ($3.80) gourdes.
Those prices, however, were deemed insufficient by the
tap-tap drivers union.
Prime Minister Evans Paul, without further comment, wrote on
his Twitter account at midday: "I say no to those who want to
smash the Republic." (French: "Je dis non aux casseurs de la
Protesters put up barricades of burning tires at several key
intersections in the capital. "We are blocking every tap-tap
driver who wants to work," said a man who was pulling a car
over. He would identify himself only as "Rodney."
"We are getting the passengers out, without violence. For
sure it annoys people but the population understand. We have to
be united, otherwise we are dead," he said.
The cash is badly needed to pay off Haiti's mounting fuel
debt of more than $1.5 billion with Venezuela's preferential
PetroCaribe program, which allows countries to receive oil while
deferring payment over 25 years at an interest rate as low as 1
Haiti is also in the midst of a political crisis after the
prime minister was forced to resign and parliament was dissolved
over the failure to hold municipal and legislative elections.
The strike was being observed in provincial towns, making
access to the north of the country particularly difficult.
Without public transportation, the capital's industrial
park, home to several textile factories, authorized employees to
stay home from work. The Ministry of Communication put out
assurances that school buses would be circulating as usual on
Monday, but many parents kept their children at home.
(Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)