Calm in Haitian capital extends into second day as US eyes transition soon

By Thomson Reuters Mar 13, 2024 | 3:30 PM

By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti’s capital was calm on Wednesday for the second day following the prime minister’s announcement that he would step down, with political leaders in the Americas pushing for swift follow-on action to ensure a longer term return to stability.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Monday he would resign from his post once a transitional council can take over, following escalating violence by powerful gangs that has led thousands to flee their homes.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters in Washington that he expects the transitional council to come together in the next couple of days.

He added that he had received assurances from Kenyan President William Ruto that the African nation was prepared to lead a long-delayed security mission to Haiti “as soon as this new council is stood up” and an interim prime minister is picked.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, pressed for action from Haitian leaders.

“We need to see Haiti’s political class come together and figure out a way to move forward,” Trudeau told reporters in Calgary on Wednesday.

“The international community has been intervening for 30 years in Haiti, and we are still finding ourselves in this impossible situation,” said Trudeau, promising that Canada would remain “very, very active.”

Haiti, like Canada a former French colony, has long been impoverished and politically volatile but has become increasingly lawless since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, with the country’s outgunned police struggling to maintain security and with protests increasing against the unelected Henry.

Countries had been wary of intervening in support of Henry, whose government many Haitians view as corrupt. They are also mindful of problems linked to previous international interventions in Haiti, including a sexual abuse scandal and a cholera epidemic.

In Port-au-Prince, Haitians went about their business on Wednesday, with residents buying produce from street vendors and collecting water in containers. There was little sign of visible gang activity and no new attacks reported on key infrastructure or government offices.

However, Haiti’s most powerful gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, who had threatened to overthrow Henry, had “dismissed” the transitional council, the Miami Herald reported on Wednesday. Reuters was not able to independently confirm Cherizier’s position.

Meanwhile, non-essential United Nations staff are set to start leaving Haiti due to the volatile security situation, according to a U.N. spokesperson.

The body employs 267 international staff and 1,220 locals in Haiti. The spokesperson declined to say how many were considered non-essential.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, and Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)