By Frank Miles
Published February 18, 2019
The State Department responded to reports that five Americans in Haiti were arrested and held on conspiracy charges after more than a week of anti-government protests.
“We understand that the Haitian National Police detained a group of individuals, including some U.S. citizens. When U.S. citizens are arrested overseas we seek Consular Access as soon as possible and provide appropriate Consular assistance as provided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News. It did not comment further.
Reuters reported that a group of foreign nationals including armed Americans were arrested. Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported that police found rifles, pistols, drones and satellite phones in the group’s vehicle, according to Reuters.
The arrests come after more than a week of violent demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise over skyrocketing prices that have more than doubled for basic goods amid allegations of government corruption.
Last week, the State Department issued its highest-possible travel advisory for Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.
“Do not travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest,” the department advised Americans in its Level 4 warning. “There are currently widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. ... Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.”
Goods in Haiti have doubled in price in recent weeks: A sack of rice now costs $18 in U.S. dollars and a can of dry beans around $7. In addition, a gallon of cooking oil has gone up to nearly $11 from $7. Inflation has been in the double digits since 2014, and the price hikes are angering many people in Haiti, where about 60 percent of its nearly 10.5 million people struggle to get by on about $2 a day. A recent report by the U.S. Agency for International Development said about half the country is undernourished.
The U.S. government urged Moise’s administration to implement economic reforms and redouble efforts to fight corruption and hold accountable those implicated in the scandal over the Venezuelan subsidized oil program, known as Petrocaribe.
Moise has refused to step down, though his prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, said over the weekend that he has agreed to reduce certain government budgets by 30 percent, limit travel of government officials and remove all non-essential privileges they enjoy, including phone cards. Ceant also vowed to investigate alleged misspending tied to Petrocaribe, and said he has requested that a court audit all state-owned enterprises. He also said he would increase the minimum wage and lower the prices of basic goods, although he did not provide specifics.
Fox News’ Nicholas Kalman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.