Haiti gang leader warns of civil war unless PM Ariel Henry steps down

Thousands have fled since gangs began a coordinated campaign to push Henry from power.

Jimmy Cherizier, the Haitian gang leader behind a violent attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has warned of civil war and “genocide” unless Henry steps down.

Armed criminal gangs, who control large swathes of the country, launched a coordinated assault to remove the prime minister when he was out of the country last week.

Henry, who was supposed to step down in February, was reported to be in Puerto Rico, a United States territory, on Tuesday after the Dominican Republic refused permission for his plane to land. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t resign, if the international community continues to support him, we’ll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide,” Cherizier, a 46-year-old former police officer who goes by the name Barbecue and is under United Nations sanctions for human rights abuses, told reporters in the capital Port-au-Prince.

“Either Haiti becomes a paradise or a hell for all of us. It’s out of the question for a small group of rich people living in big hotels to decide the fate of people living in working-class neighbourhoods,” he added.

Gangs opened fire on police late on Monday outside the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, as dozens of employees and other workers fled the bullets. The airport remained closed on Tuesday, along with schools and banks.

Over the weekend the gangs raided Haiti’s two largest prisons, enabling thousands of inmates to escape.

“Haiti is now under the control of the gangs. The government isn’t present,” said Michel St-Louis, 40, standing in front of a burned-down police station in the capital. “I’m hoping they can keep Henry out so whoever takes power can restore order.”

Henry, who came to power under a deal agreed with the opposition following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, was supposed to step down in February so elections could be held.

But in recent months, gangs have pushed beyond the city and into rural areas overwhelming security forces in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

Henry has said the situation remains too volatile for elections and has been urging the deployment of a UN-backed multinational police mission to help stabilise the country.

At least 15,000 people have recently evacuated the worst-hit parts of Port-au-Prince, said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Rights group Plan International said many were fleeing the capital for Artibonite, traditionally Haiti’s farming region whose residents are now facing food shortages as fighting spreads north.

The government has declared a state of emergency and nighttime curfew, while the UN Security Council has scheduled a closed-door meeting on the situation for later on Wednesday.

Countries in the region have withdrawn embassy staff and advised their citizens to leave.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button