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Haiti in Crisis: Gangs’ Reign of Terror Forces Prime Minister’s Resignation

March 12, 2024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criminal gangs, wielding more power than Haiti’s state security forces, have unleashed chaos across the nation, prompting the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The escalating violence has seen targeted attacks on prisons and the capital’s airport, forcing businesses to shutter and schools to close their doors. With an estimated 15,000 people displaced in Port-au-Prince, Haiti finds itself teetering on the brink of what experts have labeled a low-scale civil war.

Prime Minister Henry’s decision to step down came after mounting international pressure and a meeting in Jamaica, attended by Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, aimed at finding a solution to Haiti’s deepening crisis. The U.N.’s top human rights official had previously warned of an “untenable” situation, with over 1,190 fatalities recorded since the start of 2024 alone.

The recent wave of violence erupted as Henry sought support for a U.N.-backed police force during a trip to Kenya on February 29. Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, along with other factions, intensified their assault, demanding Henry’s resignation.

In response, Finance Minister Patrick Boivert declared a state of emergency and imposed an evening curfew, but the unrest continued unabated.

On March 5, with Henry still in his role though not in the country, Cherizier warned that if the premier didn’t resign and “if the international community continues to support him, we’ll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide.”

“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 neighborhoods,” Cherizier said, in a possible reference to the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting taking place in New York about his country’s fate.

“Cherizier is leader of a gang federation known fully as G9 Family and Allies. He used to be an elite police officer before taking up arms against Haitian authorities. Cherizier has previously launched massive attacks that have crippled the country.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry’s absence from the country, due to closed airports amidst the violence, further complicated matters. He found refuge in Puerto Rico after being barred from entering the Dominican Republic. While the U.S. expressed support for a political transition, it remains uncertain who will lead Haiti out of the crisis in Henry’s absence.

The roots of Haiti’s turmoil run deep, with government corruption exacerbating longstanding instability worsened by devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2021. The current crisis traces back to 2021, with the assassination of Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse, leaving a power vacuum and a nation in disarray.

With an estimated 200 gangs operating in Haiti, their influence has grown, controlling up to 80% of the capital. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including sniper rifles and machine guns, the gangs pose a formidable challenge to the weakened state apparatus.

A recent report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime sheds light on the alarming rise in the military capacity of criminal gangs in Haiti, fueled by smuggled firearms and ransom payments. This surge in firepower has drastically enhanced the gangs’ financial independence, further strengthening their hold over the nation as the state’s authority wanes.

The report underscores the significant evolution of present-day gangs, whose access to high-caliber weapons has propelled them to levels of military prowess unseen a decade ago. This transformation, driven by the illicit acquisition of advanced weaponry, has fundamentally altered the landscape of violence in Haiti, leaving communities ravaged and authorities overwhelmed.

Highlighting the severity of the situation, a 2023 U.N. report revealed the interception of a cache of weapons bound for Haitian ports, including .50 caliber sniper rifles, .308 rifles, and belt-fed machine guns. Such formidable armaments in the hands of criminal elements pose a grave threat to the safety and security of Haiti’s populace.

As Haiti grapples with its most severe crisis in recent memory, the path to stability remains uncertain. Amidst the chaos, the plight of ordinary Haitians hangs in the balance, as they endure the devastating consequences of violence and political upheaval.

 

Credit: CBS News

 

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