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Intel Brief: Haiti declares state of emergency amid escalating violence


Date: 08/03/2024


Who is involved: 

  • Haitian gangs (mainly G9), Haiti interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, Kenyan government, the UN





What happened? 


  • On 29/02/2023, Haiti witnessed an escalation of violence which caused 15,000 displaced people and at least 12 victims, including police officers. The unrest was triggered by Haiti de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry's visit to Kenya, to sign a  reciprocal deal with Kenyan President Ruto for the deployment of Kenyan police officers to support the Haitian government in combating gangs. 

  • On 03/03/2024 gangs launched a coordinated attack targeting two of the main prisons of Port-au-Prince, freeing over 4,700 inmates, at least 9 police stations and other public buildings and critical infrastructure. In response to these, Haiti's government declared a state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew which were extended respectively until 03/04/2024 and 10/03/2024, after an escalation of violence saw gangs setting fire to police stations in Port-au-Prince, and breaking into a major port terminal and looting containers. 

  • Haiti’s main port terminal is now suspending operations, and The World Food Programme has suspended its maritime transport services to Port-au-Prince from distributing aid to Haiti, due to instability. Many health centers have been forced to reduce their operations too, due to violence and the lack of medicine and personnel. 

  • On 04/03/2024, gunmen tried to seize control of a police academy and the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Some aircrafts have been damaged by gunfire. 

  • Prime Minister Henry is currently not in the country. On 05/03/2024, he landed in Puerto Rico, after he was denied entry to Haiti. Gangs, which are currently controlling 80% of capital Port-au-Prince, are calling for Henry’s resignation. Jimmy “Barbecue” Cheriezier, leader of the powerful gang federation G9 in control of most of Port-au-Prince, announced on 05/03/2024 that gangs will prevent the return of Henry in the country. He called for a “civil war”, if the interim PM does not resign and claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks of the last few days.

  • Amid the mounting pressure to step down, and for safety, especially after the seizure at the airport, Prime Minister Henry has not been able to return to Haiti. His whereabouts were unknown for a few days after the attacks on the prisons and the airport, until 05/03/2024, when he landed in  Puerto Rico, after being denied permission to land in the neighboring Dominican Republic.  

  • Following the spike of violence, on 07/03/2024, the U.S. urged Haiti PM to expedite the political transition to prevent a further deterioration of the security and humanitarian crisis. On 06/03/2023, Guyanese President Ali, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) chairman, of which Haiti is a member, stressed the need for international community support. On the same day, the U.N. The Security Council held a closed door meeting on Haiti, after the UN Secretary General António Guterres called for all political actors to see “urgent action, particularly in providing financial support for the multinational security support mission” in Haiti. 

  • Caribbean officials stated that the leaders of CARICOM spoke with Henry and presented several alternatives to end the deepening crisis, including his resignation, but they were not able to reach any form of consensus. 

  • All international airlines have suspended flights to Haiti. The airport is being actively targeted, and it is now effectively closed. The Dominican Republic civil aviation authorities have closed all flights to and from Haiti, and increased security at the border with Haiti. In 2023, due to the large flow of migrants and displaced persons, the Dominican Republic had already closed its border, and refused access to Haitian refugees. Nearby nations have secured their borders, too. A maritime blockade was established in the southeastern Bahamas, amid fears of mass migration from Haiti. 


Analysis: 


  • Gang violence has been going on for years in Haiti, the humanitarian and security situation has been unstable for decades, and the escalated violence has caused Haiti’s democratic crisis to deteriorate even further. The power of gangs has increased through smuggled firearms, which made them achieve a high degree of military capacity and financial capital. In 2023, over 5000 killings were reported and more than 310,000 people were internally displaced in Haiti, mostly from the capital. Currently, aid groups estimate that more than 15,000 people have fled their homes in the past week. 

  • The latest escalation of events is worsening the already dramatic humanitarian situation, and the UN humanitarian affairs agency has warned that the country’s health system is “nearing collapse”. International observers and humanitarian organizations are urging for emergency aid and support for the population in Haiti. The recent seizure and looting to the main port of Haiti are affecting the distribution of essential supplies by aid organizations. Maritime routes are the only way to transport aid from Port-au-Prince to the rest of the country, which poses a serious problem to the delivery of food and medical supplies. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, currently there are a dozen trucks of aid, filled with food, medical supplies and equipment stuck in the port of Port-au-Prince.

  • The recent attacks to the police stations further curbed the capacity of police forces to respond adequately to the gang attacks. Nine police stations have been torched and the National Police Academy has been destroyed. Gangs have also set fire and looted more than twenty other buildings, including the peace court in Croix-des-Bouquets.

  • Since he visited Kenya to conclude the deal for the Kenyan police forces to lead a multi-national force to help restore Haiti, Prime Minister Henry has not given any public statements. Many Haitians consider Henry accountable for the escalation of violence and inability to curb gang-violence. His government is perceived by many as corrupt, as he was supposed to step back after the President Jovenel Moïse assassination in 2021, and ensure parliamentary and presidential elections by 07/02/2024. Currently, there are no elected officials in Haiti’s government. 

  • The Security Deal between Kenya and Haiti is a bilateral agreement that came as part of the "Multinational Security Support" (MSS), a year-long international force mission led by Kenya, approved by the United Nations on 2/10/2023, but halted in January 2024 by a Nairobi court. Kenya committed to deploy 1000 police officers to help combat gang violence. However, after the recent events, Kenyan police officers who had volunteered for the deployment have opted out for their safety. Reservations about the MSS also originate from Haiti’s troubled history with international interventions. The last international intervention, the U.N.’s 2004-2017 MINUSTAH mission, resulted in a massive sexual abuse scandal and a cholera epidemic, killing some 10,000 people. Moreover, some states have been reluctant to openly support Ariel Henry’s contested government. 



Conclusion: 


The situation in Haiti is highly unstable and volatile, and the violence is likely to continue. The recent escalation of violence threatens to make the humanitarian and security crisis in the country irreparably worse, exacerbating even further the migrant crisis in the Caribbean. Without international intervention, and humanitarian assistance, it is unlikely that Haitian authorities and law enforcement will be able to curb gang violence. Yet, the international community would likely have a hard time supporting such a contested government deemed illegitimate by the local population. The attacks on law enforcement and state institutions of the past week are pushing for Henry’s removal, and gangs including the G9, will continue to oppose Prime Minister Henry until elections are granted. With the current situation and the gang's active threat to government institutions, it may be impossible for interim PM Henry to re-enter the country and establish control over the current situation. 



 

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