Haiti PM’s future as leader in doubt amid chaos and threats of worsening violence

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Haitian politicians started Wednesday creating alliances to lead the country crumbling under gang attacks that have shuttered the main airport and prevented embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning home.

Politicians pursued new coalitions as Haiti remained largely paralyzed, with schools and businesses still closed amid heavy gunfire blamed on gangs that control an estimated 80 per cent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where several bodies lay strewn on empty streets.

The country’s two biggest prisons were also raided, with more than 4,000 inmates released over the weekend. Several police officers were killed in violence that erupted last week.

One new political alliance involves former rebel leader Guy Philippe and ex-presidential candidate and senator Moïse Jean Charles, who told Radio Caraïbes on Wednesday that they signed a deal to form a three-person council to lead Haiti.

WATCH l ‘I feel for them’: Fears among Montreal’s Haitian diaspora:

Montreal’s Haitian community distressed by violence in Haiti

Frantz André, a spokesperson and co-ordinator for Action Committee for People Without Status, says he’s received several calls from members of the Haitian diaspora in Montreal asking for help. Many are wondering how to get their families to Canada. A 72-hour state of emergency was declared on Sunday night after inmates escaped from two prisons in Haiti.

Philippe, a key figure in the 2004 rebellion that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was repatriated to Haiti in November and has been calling for Henry’s resignation. He spent several years in prison in the U.S. after pleading guilty to a money laundering charge.

U.S. wants to see elections as soon as possible

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was asked Wednesday whether the United States asked Henry to step down. Linda Thomas-Greenfield replied that the U.S. has asked Henry to “move forward on a political process that will lead to the establishment of a presidential transitional council that will lead to elections.”

American officials believe it’s urgent for Henry to start “the process of bringing normalcy back to the people of Haiti,” she said.

Henry was appointed prime minister with the backing of the international community shortly after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Several men have been charged in connection with that killing.

Henry then postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, which haven’t happened in almost a decade.

The prime minister has not made any public comments since gangs began attacking critical infrastructure late last week while he was in Kenya pushing for a UN-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country to help fight a surge in violence in the troubled Caribbean nation. Before flying to Kenya, Henry was in the South American country of Guyana for a summit held by a regional trade bloc known as Caricom, where Haiti was high on the agenda.

A bespectacled, bearded balding man in a suit and tie walks outside beside a man in a military uniform. Other people, men and women, are shown in the background.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry is shown on March 1 in Nairobi during his visit to Kenya. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

Henry landed in Puerto Rico late Tuesday afternoon after he was not allowed to land in the Dominican Republic, where officials closed the airspace to and from Haiti. Héctor Porcella, director of the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation, told reporters the plane did not have a required flight plan.

It was not clear if he was still in Puerto Rico as of Wednesday morning.

Dickon Mitchell, prime minister of the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, told the AP on Wednesday that regional leaders spoke with Henry late Tuesday.

“He is the prime minister. He has not indicated anything otherwise than that he is trying to get back into Haiti,” Mitchell said without providing further details.

Gang leader threatens Henry

On Wednesday, heavy gunfire echoed throughout the capital of Port-au-Prince, with Haitians fearing additional attacks led by powerful gang leaders. It remains unknown when the country’s international airport will reopen.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t step down, if the international community continues to support Ariel Henry, they will lead us directly into a civil war that will end in genocide,” gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, known as Barbeque, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Three men with large guns are seen standing in an outdoor setting. The man in the middle is clean shaven, dark complected. The other two men wear masks concealing their identity.
Former police officer Jimmy (Barbecue) Cherizier, leader of a gang alliance, is flanked by gang members after a news conference in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

Cherizier said there were “strategic places” that a broad alliance of gangs known as Viv Ansanm (Living Together) were fighting to annex and which would allow them to “win the battle for the ousting of Ariel Henry as quickly as possible.”

The U.S. administration has refused to commit troops to any multinational force for Haiti to keep the peace, while offering money and logistical support.

Canada has sanctioned a number of economic and political actors it believes have enabled gang violence and corruption in Haiti, but balked at leading an armed international stabilizing force. Canada has been a part of such Haiti missions before 2004.

Last week, Ottawa announced it would provide $80 million to support the multinational force to be led by Kenya, including police personal protective equipment and vehicles, as well as communications equipment for the police.



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