- Mark Weisbrotco-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy.
In Haiti, massive anti-austerity protests recently shut down parts of the capital Port-au-Prince after the government tried to dramatically raise fuel prices at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. Prices for gasoline, diesel and kerosene were to rise as much as 50 percent, but the government rescinded the price hikes due to public outcry. The proposed IMF-mandated fuel hikes come amid expected cuts to food subsidies. We speak with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy.
AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you about Haiti, where these massive anti-austerity protests recently shut down parts of the capital Port-au-Prince. The protests began Friday, when the government tried to dramatically raise fuel prices at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. Prices for gasoline, diesel, kerosene were to rise as much as 50 percent. But due to the protests, the Haitian government rescinded the price hikes. Can you comment on what’s taking place? A few people have been killed right now. The various U.S. airlines have stopped flying into Haiti.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, you know, in the '70s and ’80s, you had a lot of these—they used to call them IMF riots, because they were caused by IMF austerity policies. And this is part of it. This is actually what triggered it. You had this 6-month period where Haiti was supposed to make these reforms in order to get a loan from the IMF. And this is something I think people here also don't know, because it’s not emphasized enough, but he IMF has this power in poor countries—and it used to have it in a lot more countries—where if they don’t give a loan, then they don’t get money. For example, Haiti was going to get money last week. It was approved from the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank. And you don’t get money from anyone else, if you don’t get the IMF money.
And the IMF was saying, “You’ve got to cut these subsidies to gas and kerosene and energy.” And so, this was, obviously—you know, there’s a certain rationale to this. I mean, it’s not like these subsidies are progressive in terms of income distribution. But you’ve got, you know, half the country—majority of the country living under $2.40 a day. They’re living in 58 percent poverty rate, and the economy has been stagnating for years. And so, people are on the edge. And you can’t just cut these subsidies. The government thought, you know, without providing—without protecting, people are going to be hurt. And so, the government didn’t do anything to provide for that. And they thought they were going to get away with it because they announced it right in the middle of the Brazil-versus-Belgium soccer match on Friday. And it didn’t work at all. People were in the streets immediately.
And, you know, here, I think you also have to—and you’ve covered this on the show, and you know this history, but, you know, this is a very disenfranchised population. And the U.S.—you know, only 20 percent voted in the election that elected the current president in 2016, and they had to fight to get that election, because in 2015 you had this totally fraudulent election that the U.S. was trying to force the government to accept. And so, you have this history, this very long history. But even just since 1990, the United States has helped overthrow the government twice. And people used to vote in large numbers. And they’re very, very disenfranchised now. They really—I think our government played a major role in destroying what democracy that Haiti had.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Mark, I wanted to also ask you about Brazil, where a legal and political battle has erupted after a judge ordered former president and the current presidential front-runner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, to be released from prison as he appeals a corruption conviction that he says is politically motivated. Hours after the Sunday morning ruling, a second judge, a higher-level judge, overruled the order. Lula remains in jail. I wanted to ask you how you saw what’s going on there now.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, this kind of further makes it obvious. I mean, why is Lula in jail? He has a constitutional right to be free on appeal. There’s no reason to keep him there. You know, he surrendered to the authorities. He’s not leaving the country. And they don’t have any real excuse for it, except that he’s the front-runner in the October election, by a large margin, and he would win the presidency.
And this is a—you know, again, this is part of a pattern that you see of persecution against the former left governments. Argentina, you have—you know, some people are calling it “lawfare,” but I think it’s much worse than that. They’re really trying to put these people in jail—the president of Ecuador also, former President Correa. So you have this all over. And, of course, to varying degrees, it has U.S. support. The U.S. Justice Department was involved in the investigation in Brazil that, you know, led to this, these charges against Lula, which had no material evidence. So, again—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how was the Justice Department involved?
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, well, they were just—they helped with the investigation. And we don’t even know everything they did. There are people trying to find that out now. But it is—you know, you can see why people in Brazil see this as very unusual. I mean, imagine that, you know, Russia was involved in the investigation of Mueller’s investigation here. You know, it’s inherently suspicious. But I want to say just I hope, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, OK. So, this is one thing I want to say so people don’t think this is all hopeless. You know, you do have the 76-member Progressive Caucus in the U.S. Congress that has taken very strong positions. There’s a letter circulating right now in Congress that’s calling for the release of Lula. And they put out a statement, congratulated AMLO on his victory and supporting this kind of foreign policy. You have people like Ro Khanna, who just had a piece in The Nation with Danny Glover. And all these people, you have a real force here that is saying that—that is clearly against any kind of regime change efforts, that respects sovereignty in Latin America. And this is a very big thing, and it’s a very hopeful thing. And I want to make sure people understand that, that this is a major effort at resistance to these kinds of policies, that we haven’t had for quite a while.
AMY GOODMAN: And Danny Glover just visited Lula in prison in Brazil.
MARK WEISBROT: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, if people want to hear our hour interview with Lula right before he went to prison, you can go to democracynow.org. Mark Weisbrot, we want to thank you for being with us, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, president of Just Foreign Policy. We’ll link to your pieces on these variety of issues on Latin America.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Back in 30 seconds.