July 21st, 2024

Haiti Prime Minister Henry says he’ll resign once a transitional council is created

By Danica Coto And Evens Sanon, The Associated Press on March 11, 2024.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, N. Nick Perry, left, as he arrives at Norman Manley International Airport, in Kingston, Jamaica, Monday, March 11, 2024. Blinken is scheduled to meet with Caribbean leaders in Jamaica as part of an urgent push to solve Haiti’s spiraling crisis. Monday's meeting comes as pressure grows on Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign or agree to a transitional council. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced early Tuesday that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created, capitulating to international pressure that seeks to save the country overwhelmed by violent gangs that some experts say have unleashed a low-scale civil war.

Henry made the announcement hours after officials including Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Jamaica to urgently discuss a solution to halt Haiti’s spiraling crisis.

Henry has been unable to enter Haiti because the violence closed its main international airports. He had arrived in Puerto Rico a week ago, after being barred from landing in the Dominican Republic, where officials said he lacked a required flight plan. Dominican officials also closed the airspace to flights to and from Haiti.

It was not immediately clear who exactly would lead Haiti out of the crisis in which heavily armed gangs have burned police stations, attacked the main airport and raided two of the country’s biggest prisons. The raids resulted in the release of more than 4,000 inmates.

Scores of people have been killed, and more than 15,000 are homeless after fleeing neighborhoods raided by gangs. Food and water are dwindling as stands and stores selling to impoverished Haitians run out of goods. The main port in Port-au-Prince remains closed, stranding dozens of containers with critical supplies.

Caribbean leaders said late Monday that they “acknowledge the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry” once a transitional presidential council is created and an interim premier named.

The announcement was made by Guyana President Irfaan Ali, who held an urgent meeting earlier Monday in Jamaica with officials including Blinken and members of Caricom, a regional trade bloc. They met behind closed doors for several hours to discuss how to halt Haiti’s spiraling violence.

Before sharing details of the proposed transitional council, Ali said, “I want to pause and thank Prime Minister Henry for his service to Haiti.”

Henry served the longest single term as prime minister since Haiti’s 1987 constitution was approved, a surprising feat for a politically unstable country with a constant turnover of premiers.

Earlier Monday, Blinken announced an additional $100 million to finance the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti. Blinken also announced another $33 million in humanitarian aid and the creation of a joint proposal agreed on by Caribbean leaders and “all of the Haitian stakeholders to expedite a political transition” and create a “presidential college.”

He said the college would take “concrete steps” he did not identify to meet the needs of Haitian people and enable the pending deployment of the multinational force to be led by Kenya. Blinken also noted that the United States Department of Defense doubled its support for the mission, having previously set aside $100 million.

The joint proposal has the backing of regional trade bloc Caricom.

“I think we can all agree: Haiti is on the brink of disaster,” said Ali. “We must take quick and decisive action.”

Ali said he is “very confident that we have found commonality” to support what he described as a Haitian-led and -owned solution.

Meanwhile, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the meeting was a work in progress.

“It is clear that Haiti is now at a tipping point,” he said. “We are deeply distressed that it is already too late for too many who have lost far too much at the hands of criminal gangs.”

While leaders met behind closed doors, Jimmy Chérizier, considered Haiti’s most powerful gang leader, told reporters that if the international community continues down the current road, “it will plunge Haiti into further chaos.”

“We Haitians have to decide who is going to be the head of the country and what model of government we want,” said Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who leads a gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies. “We are also going to figure out how to get Haiti out of the misery it’s in now.”

The meeting in Jamaica was organized by Caricom, which for months has pressed for a transitional government in Haiti while protests in the country have demanded Henry’s resignation.

“The international community must work together with Haitians towards a peaceful political transition,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Nichols will attend the meeting.

Powerful gangs have been attacking key government targets across Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Since Feb. 29, gunmen have burned police stations, closed the main international airports and raided the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

When the attacks began, Henry was in Kenya pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country that has been delayed by a court ruling.

Late Monday, the Haitian government announced it was extending a nighttime curfew until March 14 in an attempt to prevent further attacks.

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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