In the most recent escalation in a nation experiencing a humanitarian crisis, Haiti’s most prominent gang leader demanded the armed removal of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and urged citizens to protest the unelected government in the streets.
On Tuesday, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier led his band of armed men on a march across the capital, blocking roads and beating on drums. Cherizier is a former police officer who now commands a strong alliance of gangs that holds sway over significant portions of Port-au-Prince.
Gang leader Cherizier informed the reporters, “We are starting the war to remove Ariel Henry’s regime in any manner imaginable. “Weapons will be used in our battle.” He added that there would be daily “demonstrations in all working-class areas” against Henry’s government, which he said had no legitimacy.
Haitian gangs, which regularly engage in gun battles with police and profit from activities such as extortion and drug trafficking, have grown in strength since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
The assassination left a power vacuum, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry ruling on an interim basis ever since. Henry has pledged to hold elections once security is restored and has called for international help in the fight against the gangs.
“The international community cannot continue to do this in Haiti,” Cherizier said. “If the international community has nothing to do with Moise’s death, they should not support Ariel Henry.”
Cherizier also said that residents of the densely populated Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood who left their homes due to gang violence would soon be able to return and live in peace.
Cherizier’s threat comes as Kenya weighs whether to lead a multinational, United Nations-backed force to help Haiti’s under-equipped police battle the gangs.
According to UN estimates, more than 19,000 people have been driven from the capital in recent weeks due to the outbreak of armed violence.