MEXICO CITY — Burned-out cars, makeshift barricades and shuttered businesses signaled a week of unrest in Haiti, where protesters are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse and more violent protests are feared.
Streets, schools and banks were closed throughout the country, bringing the economy to a standstill. Shortages of oil, power and food abound. The nation’s currency is in free fall, and allegations of corruption linked to Mr. Moïse have brought the nation to a crisis point.
“To me it is obvious: The president, particularly, doesn’t govern anything at all right now,” said Fritz Jean, a former prime minister and past governor of Haiti’s Central Bank. “In fact, we are in a state of vacancy right now.”
Mr. Moïse has not been seen publicly since Wednesday morning, when he issued a prerecorded address appealing for calm and offering to form a unity government in the aftermath of several failed attempts to appoint a new prime minister, who would be his fourth nominee in just over two years.
The message was roundly rejected by the political opposition and by Haitians on the street, who responded with spontaneous violent protests on Wednesday that culminated in demonstrations around the country. The resulting damage — burned and looted businesses, blockaded streets, cars set ablaze — has left Haitians fearing the worst.
On Saturday, André Michel, a leader of the opposition, called for the country to remain shut down “until the resignation of Jovenel Moïse. No gifts will be given here.”
“Those who are guarding the barricades blocking streets need to remain,” he said during a talk show on Saturday.
Though Haiti seems to exist in a perpetual state of fragility, the current protests are the culmination of more than a year of turmoil, and almost three years of discontent with Mr. Moïse.
The government is without a confirmed prime minister. Inflation is nearly 20 percent, growth is expected to be a paltry 1.5 percent, and the government has not voted on a budget in two years. The Haitian gourde, the nation’s currency, has fallen dramatically in the past five years.
“If he doesn’t leave the country without conditions, we will resort to looting,” a protester, Cadet Jean Donis, said of the president.
The current round of confrontation began with Mr. Moïse’s attempts in July 2018 to end fuel subsidies, a move encouraged by the International Monetary Fund. Though Haiti was in desperate need of cash, its people, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, revolted.
The government canceled the plans hours later, but violent protests persisted, leaving at least seven dead. Fueling the discontent, in no small part, were corruption allegations that have long dogged the nation, most recently alleging misuse of billions in aid that flowed into the country after the 2010 earthquake.
The fuel subsidy crisis precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant in July 2018. Mr. Moïse then named a new prime minister, Jean-Henry Céant, a well-known lawyer and former presidential rival, to form a unity government. Six months later, Mr. Céant was fired.
New problems surfaced months later, when Mr. Moïse was hit directly with corruption allegations after a Haitian court published a wide-ranging report on the nation’s mismanagement of a Venezuelan oil subsidy program.
The report noted that two companies controlled by Mr. Moïse before he took office received the same government contract to build the same road in northwest Haiti.
Though Mr. Moïse has denied the allegations, the report further outraged anti-corruption organizations and his opponents.
A campaign spread widely on social media, calling for transparency and an accounting of how the money was spent. Protests connected to the campaign engulfed the nation in October and November of last year, bringing more violence and death.
Since then, opposition senators have blocked Mr. Moïse’s next two choices for prime minister. The most recent hearing took place on Monday, and ended in chaos when a governing party senator, Jean-Marie Ralph Féthière, pulled out his gun and opened fire in the Parliament yard, wounding a photographer for The Associated Press and a bodyguard.
In the past week, oil tankers have delivered fuel to the country, but the turmoil has made it difficult to resupply distributors.
The cycle of economic and political turmoil has sapped the nation and left it in a state of gridlock. The most recent events, and in particular Friday’s protests, have left Haiti reeling.
“We are telling the people who live in the Cité Soleil area and the Haitian population to rise up to overthrow this government,” Francois Pericat, a protester, told The Associated Press on Friday, referring to a poor and densely populated part of the capital, Port-au-Prince. “President Jovenel Moise is not doing anything for us, just killing us.”