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Haiti under Siege: Gangs Demand Prime Minister’s Resignation

With state institutions in disarray and gangs gaining strength, Haiti is grappling with an unprecedented security crisis. The easy availability of firearms, sourced primarily from the United States, exacerbates the situation, posing significant challenges to restoring stability in the country.

Kenyan President William Ruto speaks with Haitian Prime Minister, Ariel Henry during his visit to Kenya to sign a reciprocal agreement to have Kenyan officers deployed to Haiti.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry has fled to Puerto Rico in an attempt to escape gangs who want him to resign. In recent days, the Caribbean island has been taken over by armed civilian groups who have seized large portions of the capital, Port-au-Prince. 

Correspondent journalist, Jean Daniel Sénat told IPB that since Monday March 4, following a state trip to Kenya, Henry has not been able to return to Port-au-Prince because of attacks by armed gangs in the streets and against the country’s main airport.

Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as “Barbeque”, said Haiti would enter an era of “civil war’’ that will lead to “genocide” if the international community continues to support the prime minister. The former police officer who has in the past called for Haitians to mobilise against the government, claimed that his G9 gang and the GPèp gangs are reuniting and have revived a non-aggression pact called Viv Ansanm (“Living together” in Haitian Creole) to topple the government.

Henry, who leads the unelected interim government initially tried to flee to the neighbouring Dominican Republic but was unable to land there since that country shut all land, air and sea borders with Haiti last September. On Wednesday, the Dominican Republic said it was maintaining strict security measures on its border with Haiti.

On Thursday, Haiti’s government said it would extend a state of emergency around Port-au-Prince for another month following the wave of gang violence. Earlier this week, hundreds of inmates fled Haiti’s main prison after armed gangs stormed the facility overnight.

While this is ongoing, civilians, Sénat said, are exposed to a humanitarian crisis, explaining that “Many hospitals were looted and are not capable of providing care. At the same time, the number of gunshot wounds increased. There is a beginning of a shortage of food products. The security forces, who receive numerous calls to respond to the challenges, are almost overwhelmed by the events.”

Diego Da Rin, Crisis Group’s Haiti expert said outside of the capital, violence is not as pervasive but citizens face other crises. “There are very high rates of poverty, of food insecurity but the people are not faced with such pervasive violence as there is in the capital, ” he said. 

LISTEN TO FULL INTERVIEW HERE: Kenya and the Chaos in Haiti | Crisis Group

Military Help for Haiti

Last Friday, Kenya and Haiti signed a “reciprocal” agreement to deploy its General Service Unit from the East African country to lead a United Nations-backed peacekeeping mission. Kenya said it is ready to deploy a contingent of 1,000 police officers to Haiti to lead a multinational mission that will help restore law and order.  In a press statement, Kenyan President William Ruto requested that all the other partners across the globe step up.

The signed agreement should open the door for the deployment of Kenyan forces and bypass a High Court’s decision that blocked officers from becoming involved in the civil unrest there. Kenya’s high court gave orders blocking the deployment of police officers to Haiti, even as parliament approved a government request to send 1,000 officers to the island. 

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Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Africa Director explained why Kenya is so concerned about the situation in Haiti and establishing peace there, quoting “deep links’ ‘ between Africa and the Caribbean during an early fight for African independence. 

“When you go back to the early years of Independence and  the fight for independence across much of Africa, the role of the Caribbean was very prominent” … “the black diaspora was extremely active in trying to stimulate conditions that would allow for independence in Africa,” he explained. 

LISTEN TO FULL INTERVIEW HERE: Kenya and the Chaos in Haiti | Crisis Group

Meanwhile, CARICOM leaders are holding discussions with stakeholders to resolve the crisis. “For the moment, they cannot reach an agreement with the stakeholders,” Sénat noted.

Caricom chairman and Guyana’s President Dr Irfaan Ali, in a one-minute video statement on behalf of the 15-member regional grouping, said “In spite of many, many meetings, we have not been able to reach any form of consensus between the government and the respective stakeholders.”

Death of Haiti’s President

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, Haiti has been led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry who has periodically faced protest.

The judge who was investigating the assassination case issued his order at the end of February. More than 50 people are charged, including the president’s wife, the former prime minister Claude Joseph, and former police chief Léon Charles.

“According to the law, a trial must be held in order to convict the guilty. But the latest attack on prisons in Port-au-Prince and the escape of prisoners, including those who are accused in the assassination, make the trial hypothetical,” Sénat explained. 

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Since Moïse’s assassination, there has been a breakdown of state-institutions. Police, with less than 10,000 active members to oversee almost 12 million people, are said to be out-matched by gangs who have been increasing their foothold in the capital city. The estimated 300 gangs across Haiti have reportedly regrouped and joined one of the two main gangs that have increasingly grown independent in an attempt to fund themselves with weapons. 

An assessment by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that the principal source of sophisticated and high-calibre firearms and ammunition in Haiti is in the US, and in particular Florida.

“Popular handguns selling for $400-500 at federally licensed firearms outlets or private gun shows in the US can be resold for as much as $10,000 in Haiti, though prices vary depending on local preferences and international supply. Higher-powered rifles such as AK47s, AR15s and Galils are typically in higher demand from gangs, commanding correspondingly higher prices. A network of criminal actors, including members of the Haitian diaspora, often source firearms from across the US.”

Haitian correspondent/Jean Daniel Sénat, journaliste

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