MEXICO CITY – Thousands of Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on Friday in the latest display of public fury at the government over rampant corruption, economic malaise and other grievances.
Chanting antigovernment slogans, the protesters, most walking but some riding in phalanxes of motorcycles, converged on the affluent suburb of Pétion-Ville but were mostly stopped by riot police officers whose armored vehicles blocked the road. Some demonstrators set piles of tires on fire and threw rocks, and the police fired tear gas to control the protest.
Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the afternoon, some of it from police officers shooting into the air. No injuries or deaths were reported.
Friday’s demonstration was the latest in a week of violent protests that have paralyzed commerce, forced schools and shops to close, and compelled many Haitians in Port-au-Prince, the capital, to hunker down in their homes.
At least 10 people, including two police officers, have died amid the week’s demonstrations, which have featured barricaded streets and rock-throwing face-offs between protesters and counterprotesters. In addition, several people were killed by an out-of-control government car that lost a wheel and plowed into a crowd, further inflaming tensions.
The week of unrest began on Sunday when thousands marched against corruption in Port-au-Prince and other cities. It was the latest manifestation of a campaign that has flourished on social media and that focuses on allegations that Haiti’s government misappropriated billions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in 2010.
The campaign for transparency, and outrage over the whereabouts of the money — proceeds from a Venezuela-sponsored oil program, PetroCaribe — provided the initial impetus for the protests. But the unrest has also amounted to a referendum on the administration of President Jovenel Moïse and on Haiti’s worsening economic and political malaise. Opposition leaders have tried to harness this momentum to demand his ouster.
“People voted for Jovenel Moïse because they believed in his speeches, and today they’re realizing that his speeches were empty and that he did not deliver,” said Evalière Beauplan, an opposition senator. “The president does not inspire confidence.”
Mr. Beauplan led a Senate investigation into the use of the PetroCaribe money, which was supposed to be spent on social and economic projects. In a report released last year, Mr. Beauplan’s committee accused former government officials of having embezzled the funds.
Demands for an accounting of the money percolated for years but found their most effective voice in an extraordinary social media campaign started in August and known by the hashtag #petrocaribechallenge.
The campaign was “a broad movement, bringing together disparate groups with a multitude of interests and goals united around a simple question: Where did the money go?” said Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which is based in Washington. “This is a country where powerful people are not held accountable.”
The campaign helped spur tens of thousands of Haitians to participate in nationwide demonstrations on Oct. 17 and again this week.
The protests have unfolded against a backdrop of deep economic malaise in Haiti, which has suffered a plummeting currency, soaring inflation, a ballooning budget deficit, low economic growth, flagging exports and halting tourism, said Kesner Pharel, the chief executive of Group Croissance, an economic consulting firm in Port-au-Prince.
On Wednesday, Mr. Moïse broke several days of silence about the protests by broadcasting a recorded statement in which he remained defiant on calls for his ouster.
“Democracy requires sacrifice, democracy requires the respect of rules just like the Constitution orders,” he said. “We have to keep democracy and prevent anarchy.”
The protests this fall are just the latest iteration of growing discontent with Mr. Moïse.
Since winning the presidency in November 2016, he has been dogged by charges of inexperience and incompetence. His victory came after a nearly two-year electoral process marred by delays and allegations of voter fraud.
But this week’s protests, and the increasing calls for him to be removed, has left some Haitians exasperated over their country’s seemingly never-ending cycle of political tumult, marked by frequent changes of leadership.
Mr. Pharel said that while Haiti frequently suffers incapacitating natural disasters — including earthquakes, floods and hurricanes — “the main disaster is political instability.”
“Natural disasters aren’t sufficient,” he said. “We create our own disaster.”
Harold Isaac and Abraham Pierre contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.