Haiti’s top gang leader threatens politicians, capital jail on fire

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 10:33 AM

By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A powerful gang leader in Haiti has issued a threatening message aimed at political leaders who would take part in a still unformed transition council for the country, which has been rocked by escalating violence in recent weeks.

Since unpopular Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Monday he would step down once the council was in place, capital Port-au-Prince has been quieter but on Thursday morning a fire broke out at its main penitentiary, according to reports from local media.

Videos showed thick black smoke billowing out from the facility, from where earlier this month armed men freed the prisoners. It could not immediately be established if any people remained in the jail or what sparked the blaze.

The Caribbean nation is struggling to resolve a long-running political and social crisis that has displaced thousands as the heavily-armed gangs have tightened their grip on the capital.

The comments from gang alliance head Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier were recorded on Wednesday and distributed via a rambling 7-minute audio message shared on messaging platform WhatsApp.

“Don’t you have any shame?” said Cherizier, directing his remarks at politicians who he said were looking to join the council. “You have taken the country where it is today. You have no idea what will happen,” he added.

“I’ll know if your kids are in Haiti, if your wives are in Haiti … if your husbands are in Haiti,” he said in an apparent threat to their families. “If you’re gonna run the country all your family ought to be there.”

In his remarks, Cherizier said the resignation of Henry was only “a first step in the battle.”

Regional bloc CARICOM has detailed the political parties and other social sectors set to make up the nine-member transition council that will take over from the unelected Henry. Negotiations over the council were brokered by Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but formal appointments are yet to be made.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)