Haiti’s Fuel Subsidy Protests Reveal the Enduring Obstacles to Change

Haiti’s Fuel Subsidy Protests Reveal the Enduring Obstacles to Change
Protesters run after cars were set on fire near the Best Western hotel during protests over a fuel price increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2018 (AP photo by Dieu Nalio Chery).

On July 14, Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned, following a week of protests over a government plan to end fuel subsidies. Although the plan was suspended the day after it was announced, the protests continued and at times descended into violent riots and looting that left at least seven people dead. In an email interview, Robert Maguire, a retired professor from George Washington University and an expert on Haiti, discusses the issues behind the fuel subsidy plan and the protests, and how the episode will affect President Jovenel Moise’s agenda to address Haiti’s long list of challenges.

World Politics Review: Why did the government of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant seek to end fuel subsidies, and what explains the virulence of the public outcry against the move?

Robert Maguire: To put it simply, the Haitian government is strapped for cash. Funds reaching its treasury from various donors following the 2010 earthquake—as well as from the Venezuelan PetroCaribe oil program, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars for government patronage and projects—have virtually dried up. Internal revenue collection, at 14 percent of GDP, is weak. The government needs new funding sources, particularly in view of considerable deficit spending, much of which is due to payments doled out to political parties, often of dubious legitimacy and mostly aligned with the government.

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