Haitian President Jovenel Moise removed Monday two top government officials in a purge of people linked to a corruption scandal that sparked violent mass protests last week, Channel News Asia reported.
The cabinet chief and the secretary general of the presidency were fired from their posts along with 15 government advisers, according to an official announcement.
These firings follow a report compiled in August by the Haitian Senate that called for charges to be brought against two former prime ministers and several other government officials for alleged embezzlement of US$3.8 billion, abuse of power and forgery in connection with a Venezuelan oil loan program.
PetroCaribe, a Venezuelan-led oil alliance between the South American nation and Caribbean countries, was funneling money into Haitian government coffers. But the Haitian Senate’s report follows up parliamentary investigation into whether the PetroCaribe funds were then misspent by previous administrations.
“To have a healthy process, the president has decided to rid the environment of people linked to Petrocaribe without admitting they are guilty of anything,” Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant said at a news conference this week.
Haiti’s citizens remain outraged by the lack of arrests and the slow pace of the investigations. Last week at least two people were killed and dozens were injured as anti-corruption protesters numbering in the thousands surged through the streets of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
A police spokesman said 11 civilians were injured by bullets and 11 officers by flying rocks, but other officials reported higher civilian injuries.
The protests were kicked off by a photo tweeted by Haitian filmmaker and writer Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. showing him blindfolded and holding a cardboard sign reading “Where is the PetroCaribe money?” in Creole.
The social media campaign, called the #petrocaribechallenge, has spread like wildfire throughout Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world.
“We are fed up with what’s going on,” said Mirambeau, 35. “It’s like we have a knife under our throats, and are looking at the government and not doing anything.”
Some marchers were heard calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, who took office in February 2017 and whom many accuse of thwarting the PetroCaribe investigation.
In response to the protests, both Moise and Prime Minister Ceant reasserted their commitment to investigating the alleged embezzlement.
“No one will escape justice. It is a moral duty and a righteousness,” Moise tweeted on Thursday.
“We are going to create an independent commission to investigate the truth of Petrocaribe,” Ceant told journalists.