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State of Emergency declared in Haiti as gangs demand PM’s resignation

InternationalState of Emergency declared in Haiti as gangs demand PM’s resignation

Photo: Protest against acting prime minister Ariel Henry on 1st March 2024

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 7, 2024

Today, the Haitian government extended a state of emergency declared earlier on Sunday afternoon until April 3, 2024, after the country was plunged into violence over the last few days. It erupted following acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s trip to the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Guyana, and subsequent visit to Kenya, in the hope of finalizing a UN-backed security force partnership with that East African country.

The two major coalitions of gangs, the G-9 and G-Pep are fighting for control of the capital Port-au-Prince. The leadership of the G-9, former police officer Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier has said that they are demanding the resignation of acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry. He had said on the record that any action short of this would push the country to civil war, and genocide.

That criminal group is fighting to reclaim territories in Port-au-Prince to gain the backing to oust the unelected head of the government, Henry. The first three-day state of emergency and nighttime curfew was called after armed gangs stormed two of the country’s largest jails, allowing more than 3,000 criminals to escape into the streets of the capital. Several police stations were also set ablaze in the capital.

Businesses closed their doors, and school classes were postponed as civilians fled for safety. At least 15,000 people have recently fled from the worst-hit parts of the capital, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Aljazeera.

The main international airport and other targets were attacked by gunmen. Air traffic halted as soldiers and gang members attempting to seize the facility were engaged in a firefight, which resulted in PM Henry’s not being able to land in Haiti. He is currently in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

Recently, he signed a reciprocal agreement with the Kenyan government which paved the way for 1,000 Kenyan police officers to be sent to Haiti. This Kenyan-led mission, while not an operation of the United Nations, was authorized by the UN Security Council in October of 2023.

The signing of this reciprocal agreement is intended to negate a ruling from the Kenyan courts which deems the sending of Kenyan police officers to Haiti without a formal agreement between the two countries unconstitutional. The opposition in Kenya has said that they would also challenge the recently signed pact in the court.

It must be noted that Belize, among other countries, has committed to sending soldiers to the country to aid in what is being termed a “peace-keeping force.” However, experts from Haiti are skeptical of the Kenyan intervention.

“From Kenya, we are ready for this deployment, and I request all the other partners across the globe to step up so that we can provide a response in good time,” said President Ruto of Kenya following the signing.

Haitian-born Professor Robert Fatton, of the University of Virginia, said in that university’s publication that, “At best, they (the “peace-keeping force”) can reduce the level of violence in the capital city, but it’s not going to resolve any of the fundamental problems that Haiti has confronted for the last few years. The Opposition in Haiti has not [been] too keen on receiving the Kenyans. They are saying that if the Kenyans come, they will essentially prop up the existing government, which, in their eyes, is completely illegitimate.”

Acting PM Henry has not given any public statement since his trip to Kenya, but at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting that preceded his visit to Africa, the unelected official told the regional body that elections would be held by mid-2025. The statement released by CARICOM at the end of its summit said that the body would send an assessment team to evaluate the electoral needs of the country by March 31.

Meanwhile, the United States government is urging Henry to “expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive government structure that would move with urgency to help the country prepare for a multinational security support mission to address the security situation and pave the way for free and fair elections.”

In a nutshell, this call is for the unelected officials leading Haiti to facilitate a transition government before the UN-backed security mission is deployed to the country – with the hope that the body would bring enough stability so they could conduct the first elections since 2016.

Reports are that several Kenyan police officers who had volunteered are opting out for their safety, one officer telling the BBC that “there were no clear mechanisms on how they were required to work while on the mission.”

In Belize, reports are that a group of soldiers from the Canadian Armed Forces were preparing the 50 Belizean servicemen and women committed to take part in the so-called peace mission.

Since the start of the conflict, six police officers have been killed and the National Police Academy has been destroyed.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier has warned that continued international support of Henry would lead to mass bloodshed, adding that the “innocent” will be the main casualties in the fighting between the gangs, their rivals, and the state.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t step down, the country will suffer a genocide. 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,” Cherizier said.

He went on to state, “The international community, especially the United States, Canada, and France, will be responsible for all the people who die in Haiti.”

He shared that the G9 Family and Friends will “fight Ariel Henry until he resigns,” adding that they are ready to do whatever it takes to see this goal achieved.

Calls for Henry to step down from the head of government were made by several pockets of the Haitian community since he assumed the role. He was named the successor of President Jovenel Moise, by Moise, just two days before the assassination of the president.

Currently, there is no elected official in Haiti.

According to the Human Rights Defense Network, over the past year, the capital Port-au-Prince has seen a spike in gang organization, with 92 gangs counted within the capital alone and 150 plaguing the entire island.

The current CARICOM chair, Irfaan Ali, president of Guyana, said that there had to be a “political solution to anchor any stabilization of security and humanitarian efforts.”

He said that despite efforts between CARICOM and stakeholders from Haiti, efforts to chart a pathway forward among government, opposition, private sector, civil society, and religious organizations have not been reached.

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