Home International Haiti’s PM tenders resignation as country descends into chaos

Haiti’s PM tenders resignation as country descends into chaos

279

Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, will step down once a transition council and temporary replacement have been appointed, he said, after leading the Caribbean country since the 2021 assassination of its last president.

Ariel Henry will step down once a transition council and temporary replacement have been appointed. File picture: Reuters, Bing Guan

By Harold Isaac and Daphne Psaledakis

PORT-AU-PRINCE/KINGSTON, Jamaica – Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, will step down once a transition council and temporary replacement have been appointed, he said on Monday, after leading the Caribbean country since the 2021 assassination of its last president.

Armed gangs massively grew their wealth, influence and territory under his administration, prompting Henry to travel to Kenya in late February to secure its support for a United Nations-backed security mission to help police.

However, the conflict dramatically escalated in his absence and left the 74-year-old neurosurgeon stranded in the US territory of Puerto Rico while regional leaders called for a swift transition.

“The government that I am leading will resign immediately after the installation of (a transition) council,” Henry said in a late night video address. “I want to thank the Haitian people for the opportunity I had been granted.”

“I’m asking all Haitians to remain calm and do everything they can for peace and stability to come back as fast as possible,” he added.

Videos distributed on Haitian social media appeared to show celebrations in the street, with people dancing to music in a party atmosphere and fireworks launched into the night sky.

A senior US official said Henry was free to remain in Puerto Rico or travel elsewhere, though security in Haiti would need to improve for him to feel comfortable returning home. The official said the resignation had been decided on Friday.

PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL

Henry is set to be replaced by a presidential council that will have two observers and seven voting members, including representatives from a number of political coalitions, the business sector, civil society and one religious leader.

The council has been mandated to quickly appoint an interim prime minister; anyone who intends to run in Haiti’s next elections will not be able participate.

Haiti has lacked elected representatives since early 2023 and its next elections will be the first since 2016. Henry, who many Haitians consider corrupt, had repeatedly postponed elections, saying security must first be restored.

Regional leaders met on Monday in nearby Jamaica to discuss the framework for a political transition, which the US had urged last week to be “expedited” as armed gangs sought to topple his government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier Monday said the council would be tasked with meeting the “immediate needs” of Haitians, enabling the security mission’s deployment and creating security conditions necessary for free elections.

Haiti declared a state of emergency early this month as clashes damaged communications and led to two prison breaks after Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a leader of an alliance of armed groups, said they would unite and overthrow Henry.

MORE MISSION FUNDS

Henry’s resignation comes alongside regional talks over participation in an international force, which he had requested to help police fight the gangs, whose brutal turf wars have fuelled a humanitarian crisis, cut off food supplies and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier Monday the United States would contribute an additional $100 million to this force and $33 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the US total pledge to the force to $300 million.

It was however unclear how long it will take the funding to be approved by lawmakers and transferred. A UN spokesperson said that as of Monday, less than $11 million had been deposited into the UN’s dedicated trust fund – with no new contributions since Haiti declared its state of emergency on March 3.

Mexico’s foreign minister added that the country had contributed an unspecified amount of funds, and called for more action to stem the trafficking of arms to Haiti.

The UN believes Haitian gangs have amassed large arsenals of weapons trafficked largely from the United States.

The United Nations estimates over 362,000 people have been internally displaced, half of whom are children, and thousands have been killed in the overall conflict, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings since 2021.

‘A BLOODY REVOLUTION’

In Haiti, gang leader Cherizier has threatened to go after hotel owners hiding politicians or collaborating with Henry. He demanded that the country’s next leader be chosen by the people and live in Haiti, alongside their families.

Many influential Haitian political figures live abroad.

“We’re not in a peaceful revolution. We are making a bloody revolution in the country because this system is an apartheid system, a wicked system,” Cherizier said.

Residents in the capital saw heavy gunfire over the weekend as armed men downtown surrounded the National Palace on Friday night and by Sunday the United States airlifted staff from its embassy. On Monday, authorities extended a nightly curfew until Thursday.

Washington said it was looking to expedite the deployment of the planned security mission.

Henry first requested an international security force in 2022, but countries have been slow to offer support, with some raising doubts over the legitimacy of Henry’s unelected government amid widespread protests.

Many in Haitian communities and abroad are wary of international interventions after previous UN missions left behind a devastating cholera epidemic and sex abuse scandals, for which reparations were never made.

Mike Ballard, intelligence director at security firm Global Guardian, said if gangs take control of ports and airports, they would be in charge of humanitarian aid to the country, adding that he did not believe Kenyan forces would effectively police or maintain peace.

“Countries with actual stakes in the region will need to step up and help shore up security,” he said, pointing to the United States, neighbouring Dominican Republic and other CARICOM members.

– REUTERS

Previous articleBiden, Trump poised to clinch nominations and set up bruising presidential rematch
Next article‘This is a miracle’ says Nardi after win over Djokovic at Indian Wells