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State of emergency in Haiti as gang leaders seeks to oust Prime Minister

Former Police officer turned gang member; calls for criminal groups to overthrow Ariel Henry

By: Beth Templeton

On the 29th February 2024 a state of emergency was declared in Haiti after violence clashes in the capital damaged communications and led to two prison breaks. Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer turned gang leader, has called for criminal groups to reunite and overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Cherizier heads a multitude of gangs and faces sanctions from the U.N. and the United States. Moreover, he warned locals to keep children from going to school to ‘avoid collateral damages’. The violence started after several gangs joined forces in a coalition called Viv Ansanm (“living together”) to launch a series of attacks throughout the metropolitan area. Port-au-Prince has been under attack from these gangs, with a deterioration in security and currently criminal gangs control approximately 80% of the region.

Photo from Flixr

In an attempt to restore order, the government has declared a state of emergency and imposed with immediate effect a curfew between 6pm-5am. This follows the escalation of violence due to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s absence that has led to prison breaks throughout the country. The Prime Minister is currently in Nairobi, where he was seeking a deal for a U.N backed mission; seeking for an international force to fight Haitia’s gangs. However, since last week both Keyan and Haiti have expressed their commitment to restore order. The US earlier this week called on the Haitian Prime Minister to expedite a political transition; due to the gangs seeking to oust him.

On Saturday night armed groups attacked the country’s largest prison - defying Haitian police forces who had called for help. Furthermore on Sunday, the National Penitentiary was visited and there were no police officers, with the main prison doors open. One unidentified inmate told Reuturs, an agency owned by Thomson Reuters Corporation that “I’m the only one left in my cell” One voluntary prison worker on Sunday said that 99 prisoners had opted to stay in their cells; due to fear of being killed in the crossfire. This fear was extremely valid, after bodies of three inmates who had attempted to flee lay dead in the courtyard. Sources close to the prison institutions said it was likely an overwhelming majority of inmates were on the run. The penitentiary that was built to hold 700 prisoners held 3,687 as of February 2023. Furthermore, according to the U.N International Organisation for Migration; nearly 15,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since the violence, with 10 sites hosting internally displaced people emptied over the weekend.

On Sunday 10th March the U.S military carried out an operation in Haiti to airlift non - essential embassy personnel from the country which highlights that no progress has been made to regain control of the country since the breakout last week.

Ex-Colombian soldiers, who are incarcerated for their alleged involvement in the assassination attempt on former President of Haiti spoke to the media, urging for the ousting of Ariel Henry, as well as highlighting how awful the violence has been since the break-outs, with them being one of the few who have not left the prison.


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