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Haiti: Gang leader threatens "civil war" if prime minister does not resign

Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier's warning is addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who landed Tuesday in Puerto Rico after going missing for several days.

Armed gang leader Jimmy

Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier y su banda (Clarens SIFFROY / AFP)

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The crisis that Haiti is going through is not letting up and the armed gangs are putting pressure on the government. This Tuesday, the leader of the coalition of criminal gangs, Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier said, in an interview, that if the prime minister does not resign Haiti will face a "civil war."

"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," declared Cherizier, in statements picked up by AFP. The coalition of criminal gangs, which has called for anti-government demonstrations with armed actions against state infrastructure and personnel, is demanding the country call elections. "We must unite. Either Haiti becomes a paradise or a hell for all of us," added the leader of the armed gangs.

Prime Minister in exile

Meanwhile, Ariel Henry appeared in Puerto Rico on Tuesday. He landed there several days after he went missing. The Haitian prime minister, in office on an interim basis since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, previously traveled to Kenya to close a deal to form an international police force for extraordinary law enforcement tasks.

In total, Ariel Henry has been out of Haiti for a week. According to AFP, the spokeswoman for Democratic Governor Pedro Pierluisi could not confirm whether the Haitian prime minister was still on the U.S. island this Wednesday. Dominican television channel CDN assured that Henry intended to fly to the Dominican Republic, but the government prevented him from doing so.

The Dominican government intends to prevent the situation of generalized insecurity that has arisen in Haiti. Together the two countries share the island of Hispaniola. They don't want the situation to spread to the interior of its borders. The Dominican Republic has closed the country's airspace to all flights to and from Haiti.

Opposition in Haiti

Meanwhile, in Haiti the situation is chaotic. Although the agencies in the area reported a slight improvement that allowed civil society to continue with everyday life, there have also been reports of serious armed incidents. Members of criminal gangs reportedly stormed the airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, in an attempt to take over the runways and prevent the head of government from returning to the country.

The political opposition to the current government is taking advantage of this situation. Guy Philippe, a veteran of Haitian politics who led the coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, proposed creating a presidential council that would put him at the head of the government. He was supported by some other opposition figures, according to the Haitian Times.

The state of emergency that the Haitian government invoked this Sunday has not been able to curb the violence in the streets. An estimated 15,000 Haitians have been forced to flee their homes because of this wave of violence.

This data was provided Tuesday by United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric. This gang violence has fed off of the country's poverty and the severe humanitarian crisis. The situation worsened after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021.

State Department supports change of government

According to information published by the Miami Herald, the State Department believes that Ariel Henry should return to Haiti and tender his resignation as interim prime minister. However, there is no absolute consensus among the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments on the latter point.

The State Department's position has not changed in recent months and it is putting pressure on Ariel Henry to carry out a transition of power. Those opposed to Henry's resignation fear it will create a power vacuum that will give more power to criminal gangs.

U.N. Security Council holds emergency session

This Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting for the same day to discuss the situation in Haiti. During this meeting, the U.N. representative in Haiti, Maria Isabel Salvador, will report to the full council on the latest developments in the country.

AFP reported statements by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He claimed to be concerned about the "rapid deterioration of the security situation" in Haiti. The U.N. intends to carry out a support plan for the island. It has not ruled out adding an extension of the peacekeeping mission which has been present in Haiti since 2004.

MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, deployed the military after the coup d'état against Aristide in 2004. Since then, the troop strength and resources of the mission have been decreasing. In 2017, the mission became practically inactive, with a very small, almost symbolic contingent, which could now regain its strength.

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