By Agence France-Presse
All 78 detainees at a prison in Haiti escaped Tuesday, police said, during a demonstration against President Jovenel Moise that was part of an increasingly violent nationwide movement.
Witnesses said the anti-Moise protest was taking place in front of the police station adjoining the penitentiary in Aquin, a town of around 100,000 on the south coast of the country’s Tiburon Peninsula.
The former French colony is in the grip of a growing political crisis which has seen citizens take to the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince and elsewhere over the last week to demand Moise’s resignation.
Barricades have sprung up in some areas of the capital and other cities, with protesters demanding the president answer reports of mismanagement and possible embezzlement of development funds in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Prison conditions in Haiti are considered to be among the most inhumane in the world by human rights groups. Detainees face extremely crowded conditions, poor hygiene, food shortages and a lack of health care.
The justice system is notoriously slow and has been blamed for contributing to the crisis.
In October, an investigation found that three quarters of the 11,839 people imprisoned in Haiti were still waiting for a court ruling — a delay that has sometimes stretched beyond a decade.
Demonstrators are demanding Moise quit over a scandal centering on the Petrocaribe fund, under which Venezuela supplied Haiti and other Caribbean and Central American countries with oil at cut-rate prices and on easy credit terms for years.
Investigations have shown that nearly $2 billion from the program were misused.
A report released in January on the misuse of the money also named a company that was then headed by Moise as a beneficiary of funds from a road construction project that never had a signed contract.
During his election campaign, Moise promised “food on every plate and money in every pocket,” yet most Haitians still struggle to make ends meet and face inflation that has risen 15 percent since his election.
A mediation group composed of a senior officials from the UN, Brazil and a coalition of Western nations has called on Haiti’s politicians to enter dialogue over the crisis, lamenting the loss of life and damage caused by the protests.
While the government has offered no response to the demands of demonstrators, opposition groups have also failed to spell out any concrete solution to the crisis, beyond calling for the president to step aside.