Austerity measures have triggered deadly riots in Haiti, trapping American aid workers on the island as flights are cancelled and roads are closed. (BBC)
Fuel taxes were raised dramatically in an effort to raise capital as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF has been guaranteeing loans to the cash-strapped nation to aid in its rebuilding after multiple national disasters – most notably the 2010 earthquake – and decades of mismanagement. As the current Haitian government tries to repay the loans, they have been focused on reducing corruption and conducting accurate tax collection.
Desperate for money, they turned this week to fuel taxes. The proposed increases, which were to start this weekend but which have been put on hold, would raise gasoline prices by 38%, diesel by 47% and kerosene by 51%.
The Haitian poor, already scraping by only with aid from outside organizations (they are a significant beneficiary of American religious charities), are feeling trapped, as the fuel cost increases will severely impact them. From the World Bank:
According to the latest household survey (ECVMAS 2012), more than 6 million out of 10.4 million Haitians (59%) were living below the national poverty line of US$2.41 per day and over 2.5 million (24%) were living below the national extreme poverty line of US$1.23 per day.
The answer, for now, is riots – and the associated destruction of property that will set back their national rebuilding efforts.
The violence triggered by the riots seems to be fairly minimal, as they are meant to be demonstrations of frustration. Americans are not being targeted and are, in fact, generally strongly appreciated on the island among the poor for the aid they are providing. The targets are the government and the wealthy, and as yet the attacks are being focused on property instead of people.
This has not precluded injuries and deaths, however; three deaths have been reported due to the rioting. (Washington Post)