Haiti to unveil economic measures to quell violent protests

After eight days of street violence that left at least seven people dead, the president of Haiti addressed the nation, rejecting protesters' demands that he resign.

Protesters angry over failure to prosecute alleged misuse of multibillion-dollar development program

Global Affairs Canada is warning against travel to Haiti, saying the 'security situation could further deteriorate quickly.' Seven people have died in street violence. Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation, among other issues. (Dieu Nalio Chery/The Associated Press)

After eight days of street violence that left at least seven people dead, the president of Haiti addressed the nation, rejecting protesters' demands that he resign.

Protesters angry over a stagnating economy, a falling currency and soaring inflation say they will continue with demonstrations until Jovenel Moïse steps down, despite his announcement on Thursday night of upcoming economic measures.

Moïse, in power for two years, said in the televised speech he "will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers." 

Moïse said Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant will share details of the new economic measures on Friday.

In a televised speech Thursday night, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse said the current crisis 'threatens the very foundation of this nation.' (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

"I heard the voice of the people. I know the problems that torment them. That's why the government has taken a lot of measures," Moïse said. "I asked the prime minister to come and explain them and implement them without delay in order to relieve misery."

Banks, gas stations and Moïse's personal residence in the wealthy neighbourhood of Pétion-Ville have all come under attack in recent days.

On Tuesday, at least 78 inmates staged a mass jailbreak from a prison in Aquin, 150 kilometres southwest of the capital, while their guards were occupied with a nearby anti-government demonstration.

A key issue upsetting Haitians is the government's failure to prosecute the alleged misuse of development funds from an oil assistance program sponsored by Venezuela.

"The president has been lying to the nation," said Marco Jean-Baptiste, a 41-year-old mechanic who has been unable to work since the demonstrations began and worries about his three children.

Protesters continued to block roads across Haiti on Friday as food, water and gas have become scarce. Schools, businesses and government offices remain closed.

Roads to airport blocked 

Several hundred tourists, including dozens of Canadians, have been trapped in Haiti all week as the street demonstrations make it dangerous to move around the country.

"We're also obviously preoccupied with a number of Canadians who are in Haiti right now who are looking to come home to Canada in this crisis situation," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. "We are working with them, Global Affairs Canada, and all our diplomatic corps is very much engaged in this."

A Haitian police officer helps his colleague who was injured during clashes with demonstrators, near the National Palace, in the centre of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

One group of tourists from Quebec is waiting things out at a beach resort, while several teams of nurses, doctors and other humanitarian workers are also unable to make it to Haiti's only international airport.

Scheduled flights continue, but roads to the airport have been blocked.

Canada is among the countries that have closed their Port-au-Prince embassies as a precaution, although diplomatic staff and families remain in place for the moment.

Situation could 'deteriorate quickly'

And Canadians are now being warned to avoid all travel to the country.

On Thursday, the Global Affairs Canada website was warning against non-essential travel, but the notice was updated Friday morning, warning the "security situation could further deteriorate quickly" and people should "consider leaving by commercial means while they are available."

Ottawa-based Dr. Emilio Bazile and three members of his group from the Maritimes are among the Canadians stuck in Haiti following the protests.

He and his team set out in two vehicles Friday morning to try to get to the airport but encountered numerous roadblocks.

"We left Aquin, which went well, but every 10 kilometres there is barricade after barricade," Bazile said in a brief interview. "We just passed one that was very dangerous because there were tires on fire. We had to pay a lot to pass."

The group was about 60 kilometres from the airport at the time.  

"We don't need to know if there's a plane or not, we just want to get to the airport and sleep there," he said.

A team of 26 aid workers with a missionary group from Quebec is also among the scores of trapped Canadians.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said more than 100 tourists trapped at a Haitian resort are expected to be flown to
safety Saturday. Helicopters will be used to ferry the Quebec tourists to the capital, Port-au-Prince. From there, they will be flown home by Air Transat, the company through which they booked their vacations.

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Thursday it is providing consular advice to tour operators and has people on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to Canadian citizens.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press