Haiti opposition rejects president's assurances he will fight corruption

HAVANA (Reuters) - Haitian President Jovenel Moise said on Tuesday he was making moves to end the country’s corrupt political and economic system, acknowledging one of the opposition’s demands yet failing to convince protesters, who again took to the streets.

Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference in the gardens of the National Palace of Port-au-Prince, Haiti October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Moise held a rare news conference at midday, rejecting calls for his resignation amid anger over alleged corruption by public officials, fuel shortages and rampant inflation that has fuelled five straight weeks of protests.

Instead, Moise said he was ending questionable contracts with businesses made under previous administrations, accusing the guardians and beneficiaries of the unfair system of preventing the country from moving forwards, without naming names.

He also said he would work on getting the country back in gear and planned on addressing the nation more frequently.

Haitians have complained of a leadership vacuum given Moise’s rare appearances during a crisis which has shuttered schools, businesses and public offices. The last time Moise spoke publicly was nearly three weeks ago in a pre-recorded 2 a.m. televised address.

“I have heard your cries in the streets,” said Moise, who has survived several waves of protests since taking office two and a half years ago, although this is the longest one.

The president said his resignation would not be the golden ticket to changing the corrupt system.

“Instead, it is necessary to sit down in order to discuss this.”

The opposition rejected his assurances and calls for dialogue.

“Moise does not have the moral authority to attack the guardians of the system of exclusion that we are fighting today as his electoral campaign was financed by these people,” said opposition leader Andre Michel.

“We are all aware of the need to end this system ...(but) the solution of the crisis today requires above all the immediate resignation of Jovenel Moise.”

Moise was a businessman with little political experience before becoming president and is one of several officials implicated in the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars of Venezuela-sponsored Petrocaribe funds.

He denies any wrongdoing, but his government has failed to investigate further.

Protesters on Tuesday afternoon set barricades in the streets of Port-au-Prince and burnt tires in response to the president’s address, although the spontaneous protests paled in comparison to some of the organized ones of recent weeks.

“He is the one who is responsible for the current situation,” said Jean Robinson Casamajor. “It would have been better if he had kept his mouth shut.”

Delince Odeus said his children could not go to school and food products were too expensive in a country where inflation is running around 20 percent.

“I am living in misery,” said Odeus. ” I want the president to leave the country so I can have a better life.”

Reporting by Andre Paultre and Andres Martinez Casares in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Lincoln Feast