Haitian leader says he will quit after transitional council formed as gang violence increases

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 8:29 AM

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, stranded in Puerto Rico as gang violence sweeps across his country, said on Monday night he will resign as soon as a transition council and a temporary leader are chosen.

But it was not clear when this might happen as the security situation in the capital deteriorates and plans for the deployment of an international mission to restore order run into problems.

Henry, who has led the Caribbean country since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021 but who was not elected to office, remains stuck in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico after traveling to Kenya in late February to secure its support for a United Nations-backed security mission.

Meanwhile Kenya said its police officers will soon be in Haiti to confront the gangs – but the worsening violence and uncertainty about financing have cast doubt on the mission’s prospects.

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

Following his announcement, Haitians celebrated in the streets in the capital Port-au-Prince, with people dancing to music in a party atmosphere and setting off fireworks, videos distributed on Haitian social media showed.

The planned presidential transition council, announced after a meeting of Caribbean leaders in Kingston, Jamaica, on Monday will represent diverse sectors of Haitian society.

Their tasks include appointing an interim prime minister and a cabinet, and establishing a provisional electoral council to facilitate elections, Haiti’s first since 2016.

The council will include a religious leader, a civil society representative, and members from various political and business sectors. Specific appointments have not been made yet.

The timeline for the council’s formation and the elections is contingent on establishing security in the country. Guyana’s President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, head of the CARICOM regional bloc, said the plan had not yet been finalised.

Heavily armed gangs expanded their wealth, influence, and territorial control under the administration of Henry, a 74-year-old neurosurgeon.

Henry, who many Haitians consider corrupt, had repeatedly postponed elections, saying security must first be restored.

The surge in violence and anarchy led him to travel to Kenya in late February seeking support for a security mission backed by the United Nations to bolster local police forces.

But the conflict escalated in his absence, leaving him stranded in Puerto Rico. A senior U.S. official said security in Haiti would need to improve for him to feel comfortable returning home.

Haiti, which has a long history of dictatorship, violence, coups and invasion, declared a state of emergency earlier this month as clashes led to two mass prison breaks and Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a leader of an alliance of armed groups, said they would unite and overthrow Henry.

(Reporting by Natalia Siniawski; Editing by Angus MacSwan)