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Haiti crisis worsens as transition council nears completion

March 22, 2024

As Haiti's political parties verge on forming a security council, gangs have made advances in the capital city and reports of gunshots have emerged.

Police officers point their guns out of their vehicle during a confrontation with gangs near the National Palace, in Port-au-Prince
Police in Haiti's capital said that a major gang leader Ernst Julme was killed in a clash with security forcesImage: Ralph Tedy Erol/REUTERS

Haiti's gangs have made advances in Port-au-Prince, a United Nations official said on Thursday, when political parties in the violence-stricken country inch towards forming a transition government.

Police in Haiti's capital reported that major gang leader Ernst Julme — known as Ti Greg — was killed in a clash with security forces.

Julme led the Delmas 95 gang and had recently escaped from Haiti's largest prison in a mass jailbreak.

Addressing a news conference from Haiti via videolink, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the country Ulrika Richardson said daily life had become defined by roadblocks and the sound of gunshots. She went on to describe "enormous" amounts of people displaced as gangs "take over" neighborhoods in the city.

Much of Haiti, particularly Port-au-Prince, has long been in the grip of criminal gangs, but their violent activity escalated dramatically in February when armed groups raided a prison and released thousands of inmates, demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.

Henry agreed last week to step down and facilitate the formation of an interim government, but negotiations have been slow, despite pressure from the United States and other Caribbean countries. 

Haiti's recent history of turmoil explained

Violence in Haiti

Police, meanwhile, are struggling with armed gangs advancing into new areas, Richardson told reporters.

"We see people coming in with gunshot wounds from many areas around Port-au-Prince," she said.

A day before these comments, Haitian police said an alleged gang member was taken from their custody and lynched by an angry mob in the town of Lascahobas, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the capital.

Haiti's police forces are ill-equipped against heavily armed criminal groups seeking to expand their territorial control of the capital city.

Transitional council still in the works

After several days of tumultuous negotiations, with repeated promises of imminent progress this week that have not yet materialized, all parties involved were said to have settled on a choice of representative on Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed "reports that Haitian stakeholders have all nominated representatives to the transitional Presidential Council," Guterres' spokesman said.

"He calls for all efforts to maintain the momentum and cohesively work towards the implementation of the transitional governance arrangements agreed upon."

Haiti faces humanitarian crisis in wake of political unrest

The process was meant to be a rapid one after Henry was pressured into stepping down late last week. However, it's dragged on for several days, with no agreement among the various Haitian groups involved. 

"The members of the Security Council reiterated their full support for a Haitian-led, Haitian-owned political process," the United Nations Security Council statement said, urging the eventual organization of "free and fair legislative and presidential elections."

The extent to which naming a transitional government will re-establish control in lawless Haiti, with 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince and much of the countryside under gang control, is anything but clear.  

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization said the closure of Port-au-Prince's airport has made it impossible to import essential goods and medicine amid an ongoing cholera outbreak.

mk/msh (AFP, Reuters)