The National Today

Haiti rocked by angry protests after officials accused of stealing nearly $2 billion in foreign aid

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Public anger in Haiti over allegations of government pilfering of foreign aid; how the $1.6 billion Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project aims to energize remote northern Ontario communities.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A demonstrator waves a poster near a burning barricade in Port-au-Prince Sunday. Protestors in the impoverished nation are demanding accountability from politicians for allegedly squandering nearly $2 billion in proceeds from Venezuela's discounted PetroCaribe oil program. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Public anger in Haiti over allegations that billions in foreign aid has been pocketed by corrupt politicians is spilling into the streets.
  • The $1.6 billion Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project will extend Ontario's power grid to 17 remote fly-in First Nations communities by 2023.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Unrest in Haiti

Haiti's government is under siege as public anger grows over allegations that billions in foreign aid has been pocketed by corrupt politicians.

Yesterday, six people were killed and at least a half-dozen more wounded amid protests and clashes with police as the country marked the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Vertières, a major victory in the slave uprising against the French army that won the island its independence.

More demonstrations are planned for today.

Haitians protest Sunday in Port-au-Prince, their anger aimed primarily at the misuse of funds from the Petrocaribe program. Through Petrocaribe, Venezuela for years supplied Haiti and other Caribbean and Central American countries with oil at cut-rate prices and on easy credit terms. (Estailove St. Val/EPA-EFE)

In Port-au-Prince, a crowd of several thousand blocked roads, setting alight bonfires of tires and garbage as they chanted anti-government slogans and waved the old black-and-red flag that Haiti replaced after the Duvalier dictatorship was ousted from power in 1987.

At one point, protesters threw rocks at police protecting the offices of Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant. And there were reports of gunmen in unmarked cars firing indiscriminately into the crowds.  

It's the second round of violent clashes in less than a month, and the unpopular President Jovenel Moise appears to be running scared. He cancelled a planned visit to Vertiéres yesterday and zipped through a wreath-laying ceremony in the capital in under 10 minutes.

Haitians are demanding action after a corruption probe implicated government officials. (Estailove St. Val/EPA-EFE)

The anger stems from widespread public suspicion of corruption surrounding some $3.8 billion US in money and discount oil that Haiti received from Venezuela starting in 2005 as part of a regional Petrocaribe aid program.

The Haitian Senate produced reports in 2016 and 2017 alleging that nearly $2 billion of the money, which was intended for infrastructure and economic development projects, was embezzled or misappropriated.

The probes implicated 14 senior members of the government of former President Michel Martelly in the alleged fraud, but to date no one has been charged. And Moise, who succeeded Martelly as leader of the Tèt Kale [Baldhead] party, is perceived to be doing little to advance the investigation.

The protests have been spurred by the viral "Kot Kob Petwo Karibe a?" campaign, with Haitians from all walks of life taking to social media and demanding to know what happened to the PetroCaribe money.

Haitian Police block anti-corruption demonstrators Sunday in Port-au-Prince. Investigations by the Haitian Senate in 2016 and 2017 concluded that nearly $2 billion US from a Venezuelan aid program called Petrocaribe was misused. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

Moise's administration has been on dangerous ground since July, when its plan to end government subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosene — hiking prices by almost 50 per cent overnight — touched off a week of nationwide protests and rioting. The proposal was quickly abandoned and then-Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned, but the dissatisfaction has persisted.

Moise, who barely eked out a victory in the disputed 2016 general election, has said that corruption is the biggest issue facing his nation. But he himself faces unresolved allegations of money laundering, and since coming to office has replaced the heads of both government fiscal watchdogs with his own hand-picked men.

Meanwhile, the country's economic situation grows ever more precarious. The foreign aid that flowed in following 2010 earthquake and subsequent hurricanes has all but dried up, and the government has few domestic revenue sources to tap.

This year's budget deficit is forecast to be as much as $470 million Cdn. And more than six million of its 10.5 million citizens live on less than $3.15 a day, solidifying Haiti's status as the poorest country in the Americas.

A demonstrator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, raises his fist Sunday. At least six were killed during the protests. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadian and American diplomats have reportedly been busy trying to defuse the situation, holding meetings with Moise and parliamentarians, and urging restraint in the face of the protests.

But the reality is that Haiti remains a basket case, sharing the same rank as Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan and Burundi on the global corruption index, tied for 157th place among 180 nations.

And there has been little sign of improvement, regardless of who holds power.

Although this weekend's protests brought a fitting close to the official week of "the audit, corruption and good governance."


Power to the North

Reporter Nick Purdon and producer Leonardo Palleja travelled to Kingfisher Lake in northern Ontario to look at a project aimed at bringing both electrical power and jobs to remote First Nations communities.

It's hard to believe that in 2018 there are entire communities in northern Ontario that are powered by unreliable diesel generators.

That has serious consequences.

It means reliable health care is a challenge.

It means even if you build new houses in many remote First Nations, there's often not enough power to hook them up with electricity.

And in the community of Pikangikum, there are so many blackouts it can take up to an extra year to graduate from high school.

Jethro Moskotaywenene, 28, of Bearskin Lake First Nation, learns to put poles in the ground in Thunder Bay as part of a four-month Line Crew Ground Support training program. He hopes to land a job on the 1,800-kilometre power line project. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

Those power failures can even make travel a problem. When our CBC News crew was waiting to fly north a few weeks ago, we learned that planes couldn't land in Pikangikum because the generators were down and there were no lights at the airport.

Now there's a plan to change all that.

It involves $1.6 billion of federal and provincial money, and 1,800 kilometres of transmission line. Called the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project, it will extend Ontario's power grid to 17 remote fly-in First Nations communities by 2023.

The first phase of the project, connecting Pikangikum to the grid, will be completed sometime around Christmas.  

To fully understand the project's impact, The National travelled to Kingfisher Lake, Ont. — a remote fly-in community 500 km north of Thunder Bay.

It's fair to say that even though the transmission line won't get to Kingfisher Lake for a few years, there's a new hope in town. Community members are already being trained to work on the project.

The stakes are particularly high for 24-year-old Anthony Begg, who dropped out of school part-way through Grade 11.

Anthony Begg of Kingfisher Lake, Ont. (right), attends a two-week work readiness program aimed at preparing local people for jobs on the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project. The the $1.6 billion plan will extend Ontario’s power grid to remote northern Ontario First Nations. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

"It's like a second chance to rebuild my life again," he says.  

I ask Begg what getting a job on the powerline would mean to him.

"It would mean to me that I am worth something," he says and smiles.

- Nick Purdon

  • WATCH: The story about the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project this week on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


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A few words on ... 

A same-sex marriage celebration as the migrant caravan halts in Tijuana.


Quote of the moment

"It's a giant step forward into knowledge about who we are, where we've been, and where we're going."

- Wanda Robson reacts to the new $10 bill featuring a picture of her late sister, Viola Desmond, a Canadian civil rights pioneer.

Wanda Robson, sister of civil rights icon Viola Desmond, holds the new $10 banknote in Halifax on March 8 after its unveiling. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

What The National is reading

  • Spain threatens to reject Brexit deal over Gibraltar concerns (El Pais)
  • Nissan chairman arrested in Japan for alleged financial misconduct (Reuters)
  • Russia pursues another criminal case against Kremlin critic Bill Browder (CBC)
  • The American dream is alive — in China (NY Times)
  • Olympic champ among curling foursome booted for being 'extremely drunk' (CBC)
  • World Toilet Day highlights global sanitation crisis (Associated Press)
  • 6,000 Chinese sturgeon die during construction of 'green' resort (South China Morning Post)
  • Scientists unravel secret of cube-shaped wombat feces (Guardian)

Today in history

Nov. 19, 1972: Two husbands, two wives and a baby

Three's a crowd, but four (plus baby) seems just fine to Brian, Sandy, Judy and Chuck, who practice "group marriage" in an old farmhouse outside of Vancouver. There was a period of adjustment, of course. Judy admits to having been "jealous," and Chuck found that he had to love himself before he could let others in. Brian seems the biggest fan of the unusual arrangement and a relationship based on "freedom and being versatile."

Four young West Coasters living together in an old farmhouse describe their "group marriage" in 1972. 10:30

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.