Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry Stuck in Puerto Rico Amid Political Turmoil

Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, has touched down in Puerto Rico, reportedly unable to return to his homeland. Media reports indicate that he arrived in the capital, San Juan, on Tuesday, flying from the US state of New Jersey. His whereabouts had been unknown in the past few days following a visit to Kenya. During his absence, violence in Haiti escalated, with armed gangs attempting to control the international airport to prevent his return. Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, their leader, has demanded the prime minister’s resignation, cautioning that the country is on the brink of “a civil war that will lead to genocide” if he does not step down.

The rejection of Prime Minister Ariel Henry from the nation he governs is a stark indication of Haiti’s recent descent into dysfunctionality. The unfolding events suggest that Haiti is now precariously close to the status of a failed state. Reports from local news sites reveal that Ariel Henry’s aircraft had to reroute to Puerto Rico, a US territory, as it faced denial of entry to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic officially announced the closure of its airspace with Haiti, given their shared island of Hispaniola. President Luis Abinader emphasized the implementation of measures to uphold “peace and control” along the shared land border.

Several factors may account for Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s plane being denied landing in Haiti, including procedural considerations. Following the imposition of a state of emergency on Sunday, all flights have been suspended indefinitely, essentially rendering the airport in Port-au-Prince closed. Another plausible reason could be concerns for Mr Henry’s safety, considering the explicit threats from gangs demanding his resignation. His return, at this juncture, might be perceived as a potential obstacle to the nation’s stability rather than a solution.

However, the broader apprehension for the prime minister and his supporters, including those in Washington, is that this unsuccessful attempt to return home further undermines his position. It creates the perception that authorities below him are superseding his desire to set foot on Haitian soil. Currently in Puerto Rico, he must now navigate his next steps while his country plunges deeper into turmoil.

Ariel Henry departed Haiti last week to participate in a regional summit held in Guyana before continuing his journey to Kenya. In Kenya, he finalized an agreement concerning the deployment of a multinational police force to Haiti.

In his absence, a coalition of gangs, spearheaded by Chérizier, a former police officer, launched a series of aggressive actions. These included attacks on police stations and the storming of two major prisons in Haiti. As a result of these assaults, approximately 4,000 inmates managed to escape captivity.

Reuters Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' gang alliance, is flanked by gang members after a press conference in Delmas 6, Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 5, 2024.
Ex-policeman Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has warned the prime minister not to return to Haiti

Military personnel have been dispatched to safeguard multiple airports across the nation, including the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. Additionally, armed members of gangs targeted the police academy in the city.

In the recent escalation of violence, approximately 15,000 individuals have been displaced, as reported by the United Nations.

Ariel Henry assumed the role of Prime Minister without being elected, following the assassination of Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, in 2021, carried out by Colombian mercenaries.

As per a political agreement, Haiti was expected to conduct elections, and Mr. Henry was to relinquish power by February 7. However, this did not transpire, leading to widespread protests with thousands demanding adherence to the agreed-upon plan.

The assassination not only exacerbated gang violence in Haiti but also created a power vacuum in the country, which stands as the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

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