Haitian prime minister’s whereabouts unknown amid plunge into chaos

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The whereabouts of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry are unknown as the Caribbean country plunges into chaos with violent gangs demanding his ouster.

Since Henry left Haiti on February 25 to attend a regional summit in Guyana, gangs have rampaged through the capital of Port-au-Prince, raiding two jails over the weekend and freeing thousands of inmates, while launching attacks on the country’s main airport. One gang leader said the plan was to oust the prime minister.

Banks, schools, and hospitals have been closed. On Sunday authorities declared a 72-hour state of emergency and nightly curfew in the hope of quelling the recent squall of violence that UN officials say has displaced 15,000 people.

The US, a crucial backer of Henry’s leadership, said on Tuesday that it was monitoring the situation in Haiti with “great concern”.

Henry was last seen in public on Friday in Nairobi, where he signed an agreement with Kenyan President William Ruto intended to pave the way for a UN-authorised multinational mission to support Haitian police in their fight against the gangs.

Nairobi has committed to lead the operation with 1,000 police officers to Haiti, while Washington and Canada have pledged $260mn in funding between them. 

The west African country of Benin has offered 2,000 troops. Other African and Caribbean countries, including Senegal, Chad, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Belize have also said they would send manpower.

Addressing Henry’s absence, Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US state department, said on Monday that “it’s our understanding that the prime minister is returning to the country. We think it’s important that he do so and that he be allowed to do so.”

Henry assumed power following the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, having gained the crucial backing of the US and Canada. Since then, the mandates of all elected officials have expired without elections, while the capital has been overrun by gangs that control about 80 per cent of the city, according to the UN. Last year, 5,000 people were killed while 200,000 were displaced across the country.

Henry’s tenuous grip on power has also been seen as a hurdle by some regional leaders to progress on the deployment of an intervention force. At last week’s Caribbean Community summit Henry announced that elections would be held before September 2025.

Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, better known by the alias “Barbecue”, said in a video on social media last week ahead of the attacks that he and others were mobilising against Henry.

“All armed groups are going to act to get Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down,” he said. “We claim responsibility for everything that’s happening in the streets right now.”

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