Haiti: Absent PM asked to quit or face civil war

The mastermind behind a six-day gang uprising against Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, has asserted that the Caribbean nation might descend into civil war unless its temporarily exiled leader resigns. Jimmy Chérizier, also known as Barbecue, a former police officer turned gang leader, warned of a potential civil war leading to genocide if Henry remains in power with the support of the international community. Clad in an olive green tactical vest and surrounded by armed foot soldiers, Chérizier made this statement to the press.

Over the past six days, gang members have freed numerous inmates from prisons and launched attacks on strategic locations in Port-au-Prince, including airports, police stations, and a port. The main international airport has experienced extensive disruptions, with flights canceled, and gangs launching renewed assaults. The situation has raised concerns about the lack of control, potentially leading to total chaos, as voiced by Jean-Marc Biquet, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières mission in Haiti.

While U.S. officials express no pressure for Henry to step down, they urge him to swiftly devise a plan for a democratic government transition. Chérizier’s public appearances contrast sharply with the almost complete silence from Henry and his beleaguered administration. Monique Clesca, a political activist in Port-au-Prince, blames the unrest on the perceived inaction and incompetence of Henry’s government.

Prime Minister Henry, a septuagenarian neurosurgeon who assumed office after the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, has been largely absent during the gang rebellion, reportedly in Kenya working to expedite a multinational security force’s deployment. U.S. officials indicate progress in resolving constitutional issues obstructing the Kenyan deployment but uncertainty remains regarding transportation and the secure status of the airport.

Amid speculations about his whereabouts, Henry allegedly attempted to return to Haiti on Tuesday, facing obstacles in landing both in Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic. The UN Security Council is set to hold a private emergency meeting on Wednesday to address Haiti’s escalating security crisis, compounding an already severe humanitarian emergency affecting nearly half of its 11.7 million citizens with acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme.

Responding to Chérizier’s call for Henry to resign, the U.S. State Department emphasizes prioritizing the well-being of the Haitian people, urging an end to violence, concessions for inclusive governance, free and fair elections, and the restoration of democracy.

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