Haiti’s top gang leader threatens politicians, Canada evacuates staff By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, and leader of an alliance of armed groups, speaks to a news outlet on a mobile phone during a news conference, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 11, 2024. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol/File Photo


By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -A powerful gang leader in Haiti has issued a threatening message aimed at political leaders who would take part in a planned transition council for the country, and Canada evacuated embassy staff amid a fresh surge in violence in Port-au-Prince.

After unpopular Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced on Monday he would step down once the council was in place, the capital had been initially quieter but violence appeared to be flaring up again as of late Wednesday, with a shootout in one neighborhood and an attack on the police academy early on Thursday.

A fire broke out at the main penitentiary, emptied of prisoners by armed men earlier this month. Thick black smoke earlier billowed out from the facility, but the fire appeared to be under control by Thursday afternoon. Reuters could not immediately establish if any people had remained in the jail or what sparked the blaze.

The Caribbean country is struggling to resolve a long-running political and humanitarian crisis. Heavily-armed gangs have taken over much of the capital, and rights groups have reported widespread killings, kidnappings and sexual violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

The comments from gang alliance head Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier were recorded on Wednesday and distributed via a rambling 7-minute audio message widely shared on Thursday morning on messaging platform WhatsApp.

“Don’t you have any shame?” said Cherizier, directing his remarks at politicians who he said were looking to join the council. “You have taken the country where it is today. You have no idea what will happen,” he added.

“I’ll know if your kids are in Haiti, if your wives are in Haiti … if your husbands are in Haiti,” he said in an apparent threat to their families. “If you’re gonna run the country all your family ought to be there.”

In his remarks, Cherizier said the resignation of Henry was only “a first step in the battle” for the island nation of around 11 million.

Regional bloc CARICOM has detailed the political parties and other social sectors set to make up the nine-member transition council that will take over from the unelected Henry. Negotiations over the council were brokered by Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but formal appointments are yet to be made.

With Haiti’s political future in limbo and the timing of a long-delayed Kenyan-led security mission unclear, the already sparse international presence in Haiti has been further receding.

Canada on Thursday announced a reduction to its embassy staff that will leave only essential employees in the country.

“This will allow us to maintain our presence in Haiti to support Canadians during this volatile situation,” Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement, adding that the embassy was temporarily closed to the public.

The move follows similar drawdowns by the United Nations and at the U.S. embassy in recent days.

Meanwhile, major passenger cruise line Royal Caribbean (NYSE:) Group said it had suspended for a week its regular visits to Labadee, its private resort in northern Haiti, in a decision the company said was made in “an abundance of caution.”

Fearing a spread of instability in the region, Britain said it was bolstering security in the Turks and Caicos Islands, an overseas territory, as did Florida’s governor in the U.S. state. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, closed the shared border last year and has regularly deported Haitians.

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