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Haiti's Prime Minister Resigns After Riots Over Fuel Price Hike

Prime Minister Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant speaks at the national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2017. He resigned following riots over fuel prices.
Dieu Nalio Chery
Prime Minister Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant speaks at the national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2017. He resigned following riots over fuel prices.

Haiti's Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned Saturday after days of riots sparked by a plan to raise prices on fuel.

Haitian President President Jovenel Moïse said on Twitter that he had accepted Lafontant's resignation as well as members of his cabinet. Moïse said he would work to choose a new prime minister.

Lafontant, a doctor who only took up the job of prime minister in early 2017, resigned shortly before a no-confidence vote was to be called in Haiti's parliament, which could have led to his removal from office.

Reports differ on how many people have been killed in riots — at least two, three or seven — that happened over the last weekend. Demonstrators reportedly blocked roads, burned tires and vandalized shops.

The government announced on Friday, July 6 that prices would go up the following day by 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene.

By the following day, Lafontant said the price rises would be suspended, and said the government "strongly condemns the acts of violence and vandalism" that happened after the initial announcement was made.

The price increases were part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which often requires countries to implement economic reforms in exchange for access to funds. The Haitian government signed an agreement earlier this year with the IMF to gain access to $96 million in loans and grants, according to the Miami Herald.

The Herald reports that for the past week, Lafontant "had refused calls to step down from business and opposition groups, which accused the government of mishandling the double-digit fuel increase that its ministers announced with little notice."

Haiti's government subsidizes the cost of fuel in the country. The World Bank said in a report last year that the richest 20 percent of Haitians were receiving 93 percent of the subsidies and that the country was spending 2.2 percent of its GDP on subsidies in 2014.

But the price hikes were too much to bear for many in one of the world's poorest countries. The World Bank says the majority of Haitians, about 59 percent, make less than the equivalent of $2.41 per day.

The IMF said Thursday that it still supports removing subsidies as a way to give the government funding for social services, but advised doing so more gradually.

The U.S. State Department issued a "do not travel" warning for U.S. citizens on July 9 over what it called "widespread civil unrest and violent demonstrations in Haiti. Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.