Gas Price Hike Fuels Misery and Anger in Haiti

by Thomas
Péralte (Haiti Liberte)
Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe have decided to dramatically
raise government-fixed fuel prices in Haiti over the next six months despite the
plummeting price of oil on the world market and the Haitian Senate’s refusal to
approve their budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The price hikes, announced
by Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie, took effect on Oct. 10, 2014 and
will rise in three or four increments.
            According to the proposed budget
still not approved by the Senate, a gallon of gasoline will rise from its
current cost of $4.38 (200 gourdes) to $4.70 (215 gourdes) until December; in
January 2015, it would jump to $4.99 (228 gourdes); finally, during February
and March 2015, it would be set at $5.32 (243 gourdes) a gallon, a 21.5%
increase overall.
            A gallon of diesel over the same
time period would increase from $3.54 (162 gourdes) to $3.87 (177 gourdes) to
$4.03 (184 gourdes) and finally to $4.20 (192 gourdes) in March 2015, an 18.5%
            Kerosene will rise from $3.52 (161
gourdes) a gallon to $3.74 (171 gourdes) to $3.92 (179 gourdes) to $4.05 (185
gourdes) in March 2015, a price hike of 14.9%.
            Taken all together, the Haitian
government will raise the fixed price of fuel on average 18.3% over the next
six months, although the price for a barrel of oil has fallen from $104 a
barrel in June to about $81 a barrel today.
            Ironically, since 2008, Venezuela
meets most of Haiti’s petroleum needs under the PetroCaribe contract, whereby
Haiti pays about 60% of its oil bill up front, while the remaining 40% can be
paid over 25 years at 1% interest.
            Despite this advantageous deal, the
Martelly/Lamothe government, rather than passing on the savings, is in effect
taxing the Haitian people to raise revenues to fund their corruption and
profligate ways.
            In general, the fuel price hike will
further impoverish the Haitian people and degrade Haiti’s environment. Already,
70% of the population lives in extreme poverty; 75% to 80% are in the chronic
and endemic unemployment; minimum wage workers earn less than $120 a month
working 40 hour weeks; and more than five million Haitians, half the
population, are food insecure. All indicators of the Haitian Institute of
Statistics and Information (IHSI) show the cost of household food basket is
increasing. The rise in petroleum prices will be a heavy burden for the Haitian
masses, who already live in abject poverty.
            The soaring cost of petroleum-based
fuels will force many people to turn to lower cost charbon, which is charcoal made from trees. This will accelerate
deforestation in a country which has already lost more than 98% of its forests,
resulting in desertification, erosion, and flooding, particularly of poor urban
neighborhoods as happened recently in Cité Soleil as well as Tabarre.
            The cost of transit on Haiti’s
colorful tap taps, taxis, and buses, fixed by the government, will also rise.
The public transport drivers’ union is already preparing a protest against the
government’s fare hikes.
            Ironically, in 2003, as the U.S.
government (with the support of the then konpa
singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly) was fomenting a coup d’état against
the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the cost of gas was about
60 gourdes to 70 gourdes a gallon. There was not yet any cheap PetroCaribe oil
flowing into Haiti. But the Haitian government subsidized the price of gas to
alleviate the misery of the masses.
            Today, the forces which collaborated
in the 2004 coup d’état are in power and the cost of living in Haiti has
quintupled. People are living in increasingly desperate poverty and fleeing the
country in record numbers to seek work elsewhere.
            Senator François Annick Joseph of
the Artibonite, who is with the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), says
that the Martelly/Lamothe government has no concern for the population. He has
called on Venezuela to revise the PetroCaribe agreement so that the funds
generated by it are not misused by the government, whose officials are merely
enriching themselves at the population’s expense.

            “Shake up this government,” he
recently advised the Haitian people. “Shake it up until it falls down.”