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US seeks change as Haiti extends state of emergency

March 8, 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is pressing Haiti's government for an "urgent" transition as the country reels with a wave of gang violence.

A man kicks burning tires during a protest in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 7, 2024.
A state of emergency has been extended in the impoverished Carribean country, as Blinken urges for an accelerated transition to a more inclusive governmentImage: Ralph Tedy Erol/REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an accelerated transition to a more inclusive government in Haiti during a phone call with the Caribbean country's Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

The Haitian government, meanwhile, has extended the state of emergency around Port-au-Prince by one month.

He has yet to return to the capital since intensified gang violence and an attack on Port-au-Prince's biggest prison first prompted a state of emergency on Sunday. He landed in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Blinken also spoke to Guyana's president Irfaan Ali, who currently chairs the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) regional bloc.

"Secretary Blinken spoke with President Ali and with Prime Minister Henry about the urgent need to accelerate transition to a broader, more inclusive government today and those were intensive conversations," Nichols said.

Haitians fear for their lives as gang violence escalates

What did Blinken say?

Blinken spoke with Henry about "the urgent need to accelerate transition to a broader, more inclusive government today," Brian Nichols, US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs said. 

Blinken urged the government to include "many more political forces and has the breadth to take the country through the electoral period."

"Helping Haiti restore security and democracy, especially at this critical moment, represents a top priority for the administration," Nichols said.

He hailed Canada's financial contribution to an international force that aims to support Haiti to fight gang violence, but stressed the need for greater global assistance.

"We've got to do more urgently. The crisis in Haiti has the humanitarian proportions that demand a global response, the way the international community is responding to the challenges in Ukraine or in Gaza," Nichols said.

State of emergency extended

Haiti's government announced on Thursday the extension of a state of emergency and nighttime curfew in an effort to curb the gang attacks which have paralyzed the capital. The state of emergency was extended by one month.

Prime Minister Henry was in Kenya last week to lobby for UN-backed police deployment in his country. Violence has spiralled in the Caribbean nation in his absence with the gangs demanding he resigns.   

Last weekend, inmates from two major prisons in Haiti escaped in a prison break, resulting in the country announcing the state of emergency. The decree was signed by finance minister Michel Patrick Boisvert, who is the acting president.

Haiti gang leader warns of 'civil war'

Gangs and the police exchanged gunfire at the main international airport in capital Port-au-Prince on Monday. One day later, an armed gang attacked a police academy in the capital where more than 800 cadets are training.

"Our goal is to break the system. We are fighting against Ariel with the last drop of our blood," said gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer who vowed to oust Henry said.

The United Nations estimates the death of 1,193 since the beginning of the year,  with gang violence on the rise, counting over 313,000 displaced Haitians in recent years. There have also been widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings.

rmt/lo (AFP, AP, Reuters)