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Politicians Seek New Alliances To Lead Haiti

Politicians Seek New Alliances To Lead Haiti
Politicians Seek New Alliances To Lead Haiti

Haitian politicians started pursuing new alliances Wednesday, seeking a coalition that could lead the country out of the gang violence that has fueled lawlessness, closed the main airport and prevented embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning home.

Haiti remained largely paralyzed, with schools and businesses still closed amid heavy gunfire blamed on the gangs that control an estimated 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where several bodies lay on empty streets. The country’s two biggest prisons were also raided, resulting in the release of more than 4,000 inmates over the weekend.

Henry faces increasing pressure to resign, which would likely trigger a U.S.-supported transition to a new government.

One new political alliance involves former rebel leader Guy Philippe and ex-presidential candidate and senator Moïse Jean Charles, who told Radio Caraïbes on Wednesday that they signed a deal to form a three-person council to lead Haiti.

Philippe, a key figure in the 2004 rebellion that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, returned to Haiti in November and has been calling for Henry’s resignation. He spent several years in prison in the U.S. after pleading guilty to a money laundering charge.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was asked Wednesday whether the United States asked Henry to step down.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield replied that the U.S. has asked Henry to “move forward on a political process that will lead to the establishment of a presidential transitional council that will lead to elections.”

American officials believe it’s urgent for Henry to start “the process of bringing normalcy back to the people of Haiti,” she said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller echoed her remarks, saying the United States was not acting unilaterally but rather in consultation with partners in the region.

People walk by and look at the tribunal set on fire the previous day by armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 6, 2024.

“And what we are saying to the prime minister is that he needs to expedite the transition to empowered and inclusive governance,” Miller said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the organization continued to deal with Henry as prime minister, adding that diplomats were “not in the business of encouraging him to resign.”

He said the U.N. chief is urging the government and all parties to set aside their differences and agree on “a common path towards the restoration of democratic institutions.”

Dujarric described the situation in Port-au-Prince as “extremely fragile,” with sporadic attacks forcing the cancellation of all flights in and out of Haiti.

“Health infrastructure is on the brink of collapse,” he said, noting that wounded civilians were overwhelming hospitals and blood products were urgently needed.

U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk said nearly 1,200 people have been killed in Haiti since the beginning of the year “because of this man-made violence.”

Caribbean leaders who have traveled to Haiti and previously met with Henry said Wednesday that a political solution is needed before the crisis worsens.

“In spite of many, many meetings, we have not been able to reach any form of consensus between the government, the private sector, civil society, religious organizations,” said Irfaan Ali, president of Guyana, a country on South America’s Atlantic coast.

Gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier speaks into his walkie talkie before a mission, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 5, 2024. Cherizier presents himself as a revolutionary, and says he wants to sweep away the crisis-torn country's elite.

Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier speaks into his walkie talkie before a mission, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 5, 2024. Cherizier presents himself as a revolutionary, and says he wants to sweep away the crisis-torn country’s elite.

The challenges are “compounded by the absence of key institutions” such as the presidency and parliament, as well as the violence and the lack of humanitarian aid, he said.

The prime minister has not made any public comments since gangs began attacking critical infrastructure late last week while he was in Kenya pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country to help fight the surge in violence in the troubled Caribbean nation.

Before flying to Kenya, Henry was in Guyana for a summit held by a regional trade bloc known as Caricom, where Haiti was high on the agenda.

Meanwhile, a Caribbean official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that leaders of Caricom spoke with Henry late Tuesday and presented several alternatives to end Haiti’s deepening crisis, including his resignation, which he refused to do. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details about the talks.

Henry landed Tuesday in Puerto Rico after he was not allowed to land in the Dominican Republic, where officials closed the airspace around Haiti. Héctor Porcella, director of the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation, told reporters the plane did not have a required flight plan.

The Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Wednesday that U.S. and Haitian officials informally contacted it to inquire about the possibility of Henry’s plane making an “indefinite stop” in the Dominican Republic, adding that the prime minister was in New York at the time.

The government said it twice told foreign officials that such a move would require a defined flight plan.

“It is essential to note that the Dominican Republic maintains its willingness to continue cooperating with the international community to facilitate Haiti’s return to normalcy. However, it is imperative that any action taken does not compromise our national security,” the foreign affairs office said.

Dickon Mitchell, prime minister of the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, told the AP that regional leaders spoke late Tuesday with Henry, who did not indicate anything except “that he is trying to get back into Haiti.” Mitchell did not provide details.

Henry was appointed prime minister with the backing of the international community shortly after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

As he tried to return to Haiti on Wednesday, heavy gunfire echoed throughout Port-au-Prince as Haitians feared additional attacks led by powerful gang leaders.

It was not clear when the country’s international airport would reopen.

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