Haiti works at govt transition as gang leader vows to fight on

Haiti has not had a national election since 2016, and there is currently no parliament or president (Clarens SIFFROY)
Haiti has not had a national election since 2016, and there is currently no parliament or president (Clarens SIFFROY)

A powerful Haitian gang leader pledged Wednesday to continue the fighting that has plunged the country into chaos, as stakeholders work toward establishing a transitional governing body to replace the outgoing prime minister.

Gangs that control most of the capital Port-au-Prince launched an armed campaign almost two weeks ago saying they intended to topple Prime Minister Ariel Henry, sending the nation into violent conflict with warnings of possible famine and civil war.

Henry agreed to step aside after an emergency meeting Monday that brought together US, UN and Caribbean representatives, among others, and yielded a blueprint for Haitians to form a governing Transitional Presidential Council until elections can be held.

But Jimmy Cherizier, a powerful Haitian gang leader known as "Barbecue," said Wednesday his coalition of armed groups "do not care about Ariel Henry's resignation."

"We are going to continue the fight for Haiti's liberation," the former policeman under UN sanctions told Spanish-language network W Radio.

Haiti has not had a national election since 2016, and there is currently no president or parliament. President Jovenel Moise, who was assassinated in 2021, was not replaced, with Henry leading the country after his death.

Henry has been stranded in Puerto Rico after a visit to Kenya, where he hoped to nail down details of a plan for Nairobi to lead a UN-approved police force to restore order in Haiti.

He announced late Monday he would resign when the transitional council is stood up.

Kenya said it had put its plans on hold, but President William Ruto confirmed Wednesday that his country still intended to follow through with the support mission once the transitional council is installed.

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali, who heads the regional bloc CARICOM, said the crisis in Haiti was likely beyond the capacity that Caribbean militaries could handle.

"The situation in Haiti tells you how ill-prepared we were as a region," he said at a University of Guyana event in Georgetown. "We are now scrambling to put together joint command, joint operation."

- Tough talks -

The transitional body is to have seven voting members drawn from political parties, the private sector and the Montana Group, a civil society coalition that had proposed an interim government in 2021 after Moise's assassination.

There will also be two non-voting seats on the council: one for civil society and another for the church.

The body is supposed to quickly name an interim prime minister.

The US State Department said Tuesday the council should be formed in 24 or 48 hours, but the talks are turning out to be arduous and most parties contacted by AFP said they were not yet near agreement.

Parties close to Moise have selected their delegate to the transitional body but politicians loyal to Henry are still in disagreement over who will represent them.

"We're talking about political parties, which have not been able to see eye to eye over the last few years," Ivan Briscoe, head of the International Crisis Group's Latin America and Caribbean program, told AFP.

Now that Henry is heading out, "possibly they will look to the national interest and leave aside their party interests for a while until the elections," he said.

- Slow return to normalcy -

In Port-au-Prince, shops were open Wednesday and life was slowly returning to normal, an AFP reporter observed.

Buses were running and some government offices were open after a two-week closure. But schools stayed shut, as did the city's airport.

Several countries and the European Union have evacuated their diplomatic personnel due to the instability.

The UN mission in Haiti said Wednesday it would be launching an "airbridge" from neighboring Dominican Republic to facilitate the movement of aid into the country.

Several residents welcomed the resignation of Henry but wondered how the powerful gangs -- who control vast swaths of the country and 80 percent of the capital -- will behave as Haiti tries to get back on its feet.

A man named Emmanuel, who declined to give his last name, said Henry "was the biggest obstacle we had."

"He did not really have a plan for what to do with the country. We need a fast mechanism to replace him," Emmanuel told AFP.

Another Haitian, named Jean Dieuchel, said "it is now up to the people to decide who should be prime minister and who should be president. These people should be Haitian patriots and they should have a sense of national sovereignty."