PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian President Jovenel Moïse broke with tradition on Wednesday and celebrated the country’s independence day in the capital for security reasons following months of political turmoil.
Moïse, whose government has been accused of corruption, denounced graft during his speech at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince and urged Haiti’s elite to work with the government and help create employment.
“We’re still extremely poor,” he said. “Those who continue to get rich find it normal that they do not pay taxes, find it normal that there can be no competition, find it normal that they set prices for consumers, especially when this consumer is the state itself.”
Moïse also apologized for the country’s ongoing power outages and renewed his 2016 campaign pledge to provide electricity 24 hours a day, saying it was harder to accomplish than he imagined.
The speech that marked the 216th anniversary of the world’s first black republic was originally slated to take place in the northern coastal town of Gonaives, where Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti’s independence. But the town, like many others, was hit by violent protests that began in September amid anger over corruption, fuel shortages and dwindling food supplies as opposition leaders and supporters demanded the resignation of Moïse. More than 40 people have been killed and dozens injured.
Large-scale protests in Port-au-Prince have since dissipated, although smaller ones are still occurring elsewhere in the country. On Wednesday, opposition leaders and supporters gathered in Gonaives to attend the funeral of an anti-government protester and then carried his coffin through the streets as more protesters joined them.