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Haitian Gang Leader Says Civil War Could Happen if PM Ariel Henry Doesn’t Resign

Haiti gang leader warns of civil war unless PM Ariel Henry steps down

Since the onset of a coordinated campaign by gangs to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry from power, thousands have fled Haiti in fear.

Jimmy Cherizier, the Haitian gang leader spearheading the violent attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has issued a stark warning of impending civil war and the potential for “genocide” unless Henry relinquishes his position.

Armed criminal factions, commanding significant control over vast areas of the nation, launched a synchronized offensive aimed at deposing the prime minister while he was abroad last week.

Henry, whose term was due to conclude in February, was reportedly in Puerto Rico, a United States territory, on Tuesday, after his aircraft was denied landing permission by the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Addressing reporters in the capital, Port-au-Prince, Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, a 46-year-old former police officer under United Nations sanctions for human rights violations, emphasized the dire consequences of Henry’s refusal to step down.

Haitian Gang Leader

Haitian Gang Leader (Credits: Democracy Now!)

“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,” he stated, adding, “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.”

The violence escalated as gangs opened fire on police late Monday outside the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, prompting the evacuation of numerous employees and bystanders amid the chaos. The airport remained shuttered on Tuesday, alongside the closure of schools and banks.

Over the weekend, gangs raided Haiti’s two largest prisons, facilitating the escape of thousands of inmates.

“The gangs now hold sway over Haiti. The government’s presence is absent,” remarked Michel St-Louis, 40, observing the remnants of a burned-down police station in the capital. “I’m hoping they can keep Henry out so whoever takes power can restore order.”

Henry ascended to power through an agreement with the opposition following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. He was expected to step down in February to pave the way for elections. However, in recent months, gangs have extended their influence beyond urban centers and penetrated rural areas, overpowering security forces in one of the globe’s most destitute nations.

Henry contends that the situation remains too volatile for elections and has advocated for the deployment of a UN-backed multinational police mission to aid in stabilizing the country.

According to Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at least 15,000 individuals have evacuated the hardest-hit parts of Port-au-Prince recently. Rights group Plan International reports that many are fleeing to Artibonite, traditionally Haiti’s agricultural heartland, where residents now grapple with food shortages amidst spreading conflict.

The government has declared a state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew, while the UN Security Council has slated a closed-door session to address the situation later on Wednesday.

Regional countries have withdrawn embassy personnel and advised their citizens to depart Haiti amidst escalating tensions.

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