Latin America Advisor

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Can the Gangs That Are Terrorizing Haiti Be Stopped?

Photo of Ariel Henry Gangs in Haiti have intensified attacks this week, warning that the country could erupt into a civil war, and are seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. // File Photo: Haitian Government.

Haiti’s dire security situation has worsened in recent days, as heavily armed gangs broke into the country’s two largest prisons, freeing thousands of inmates, and also launched an attack on the main international airport in Port-au-Prince. Gang federation leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has vowed to “get rid of” Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was in Kenya—meeting with officials about sending an armed force to Haiti to fight the gangs—when the chaos erupted. With still no international force having been deployed to Haiti, how long will Haiti be able to fend off the gangs’ increasingly bold attacks? How close are Haiti’s gangs to overthrowing the government? What are the government’s options right now to prevent that from happening?

François Pierre-Louis, professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York: “For the past five years, Haiti’s capital and a few of its provinces have been under gang assaults. Despite repeated calls by civil society groups for Prime Minister Ariel Henry to address this crisis, he barely took a stand against them. Even though the police have been funded, trained and equipped, they are paralyzed as the gangs have continued to seize more territory. Therefore, the latest attacks, which resulted in Henry being on the brink of being overthrown, are the result of his ineptitude and inaction since he took power in 2021. Today, he is not in control of the country, and the gangs have neither the capacity nor the leadership to govern. If they succeeded in overthrowing him, it would be the most humiliating defeat for the government and the international community. But despite being weakened, Henry can still fend off the gangs if he is willing to do the following: 1.) Name an interim president from the judges of the supreme court. 2.) Reshuffle his cabinet to make it more inclusive and democratic. 3.) Install an interim electoral council with a clear mandate to hold elections within a year. 4.) Change his chief of police and start investigating all the human and civil rights violations that have occurred since he became prime minister. It might be too late for him to act since he has squandered the people’s trust, and he does not have the will to do so. Therefore, his resignation would be the best option.”

Monique Clesca, journalist, former U.N. official and a member of the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis and the Monitoring Bureau of the Montana Accord: “I do not believe in having an international force deployed in Haiti. The gangs now control the country, and the paradigm has shifted. If they want to take the presidency, they can do it today, tomorrow or the day after. In a way, they have already overthrown the government. The most important question, rather, is how and why Ariel Henry and the U.S. government, his most fervent supporter and even enabler, allowed the situation to get this bad. Henry had no plan, was never asked for one and presided over massacres, rapes, kidnappings, displacement of populations and takeovers of neighborhoods—all by the gangs—and did nothing, and even more disdainful, he said nothing even when the population begged for help. Last weekend’s gang offensive was a ‘death foretold,’ as Gabriel García Márquez would have written. The Biden administration not only has blood on its hands but holds a massive responsibility for not having seriously considered supporting the well-thought, consensual, inclusive agreements for a peaceful transition, such as the Montana Accord.”

Raymond A. Joseph, former ambassador of Haiti to the United States: “It’s very unfortunate that the situation had to reach this point, before Ariel Henry, the illegitimate prime minister of Haiti, can be done with. Having been named to his post on July 20, 2021, via a tweet of the Core Group of Western ambassadors in Port-au-Prince, he was to organize elections in November 2021, as mandated by the constitution, to choose a president, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, on July 7 that year. Blaming the gangs for hindering the organization of the elections, he failed to do so. Since he assumed power, the neurosurgeon-turned politician never lifted a finger against the gangs that have expanded throughout the nation, even controlling 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to a U.N. report. Again blaming the gangs, Dr. Henry failed to honor his signature on the December 21, 2022 accord, whereby he was to organize elections in 2023 and inaugurate a new government last Feb. 7. At last week’s Caricom conference of heads of state, Dr. Henry again promised elections by Aug. 31, 2025, with a transfer of power by Feb. 7, 2026. That angered most Haitians. And last Thursday, the gangs went into action, vowing to stop Dr. Henry for good. Leaving Guyana, the prime minister went to Nairobi to sign a pact with President William Ruto to expedite the Kenya-led police mission to help defeat the gangs. But it’s rather late for Dr. Henry, who can’t even set foot back in Haiti. And it’s not just Haitians who now say he’s the stumbling block on the path to democracy. He’s also shunned by some bigwigs of the international community. All activities are currently geared toward forming a transition government to help save Haiti from total annihilation.”

Cécile Accilien, professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of Maryland, College Park: “At this point it is clear that the Haitian police do not have the structure nor the resources to fight off the gangs. The timeline as to how long it will take the gangs to completely overthrow the government is a moot point given the fact that the de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry, cannot land in Haiti. Furthermore, the gangs control the capital and have blocked major seaports and roadways. Essentially, they are the ones leading the country and dictating what happens. It is a carnivalesque situation in an upside-down world. Sadly, the Haitian people are the ones who are suffering. The government’s options will depend upon what the United States and the United Nations are deciding or have already decided in their various closed-door meetings.”


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