PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Escalating street protests have pushed Haiti’s already serious social crisis this week into what regional leaders have described as a “powerful civil war.” low levels”, leaving the people of the capital cut off from the outside world and scrambling for basic necessities such as water and food.
Protesters set up barricades of debris, felled trees and tires across the capital Port-au-Prince, looting shops and humanitarian depots and attacking banks and other places. residence of pro-government politicians and well-off citizens.
The smoldering unrest across the island nation has formed the biggest wave of protests in years following the government’s announcement last Sunday that it would raise the country’s highly subsidized fuel prices. .
The protests quickly expanded into a general denial, denying Haiti’s poor living conditions, characterized by widespread hunger, lack of basic services, ubiquitous gang violence, and deflationary inflation. escape and the weak rule of prime minister Ariel Henry. Henry took power after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last year.
As Mr. Henry’s government took hold of the country largely disappeared during a time of unrest, other factions tried to fill the power vacuum.
An opposition leader, Moïse Jean Charles, urged supporters to close banks at a rally in the northern city of Cap Haitien, make the crowd cheer “We’ll burn them.”
A prominent gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, known as the Bar Grill, said Haiti’s poor must take down Mr. a demonstration he celebrated at his stronghold in Port-of-Prince on Thursday.
“The system must be turned upside down,” he said in a video address posted from the protest. “The real gangs and the real robbers are the people in suits.”
Officials from two countries that closely monitor Haiti say politicians and businessmen who fund the gangs may be exacerbating the unrest, sparking widespread outrage to force Mr. re-implement economic measures that hurt their revenue.
They say Mr. Henry’s decision to more than double gasoline and diesel prices this week could dent profits from the black market fuel trade, which is controlled by Haitian elites.
And in recent months, Haitian customs officers, at the insistence of the United States, have increased port inspections, detecting large shipments of illegal weapons and ammunition, and increasing tax collection from legally imported goods. The increase in tax income comes from Haitian contraband runners and entrepreneurs who rely on the sale of duty-free products.
Mr Henry responded to the protests by suspending all gun permits and holding an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday where ministers considered declaring a state of emergency and nationwide curfew, according to an official familiar with the discussions, who was not authorized to discuss privately. discussions.
As the protests increased, Mr. Henry largely withdrew from public view.
“The solution to the country’s problems is not found in the burning of barricades, disturbances, destruction of the windows of cars or people’s goods,” he said on Sunday, in his speech. his last.
Diplomats and security officials say his government has little to do with the situation. Chronic fuel shortages and growing gang power have reduced the police presence on the streets, and Haiti largely disbanded its army in 1994.
Several police officers failed to show up for duty this week, unwilling to risk their lives for a deeply unpopular government that most Haitians consider illegitimate.
But even if protesters succeed in ousting Henry, Haiti has little chance of returning to stability in the near future, officials and diplomats said. During his 14 months in power, Mr. Henry made little progress in achieving his stated goals: to pacify the country and reform its constitution to facilitate free and fair elections to replace Mr. Moïse.
Instead, under his rule, the country was deeper into violence and political dysfunctionall but a peaceful transition, officials and diplomats say.
On Tuesday, gang members killed three police officers in an ambush in an upscale Port-of-Prince neighborhood, posting videos of their bodies on social media. The officers’ deaths follow the murder of two local journalists by a gang fighting for control of a working-class area of the capital.
Henry’s office and the Haitian national police did not respond to requests for comment.
By Friday morning, parts of Port-of-Prince, a city of 3 million people, resembled a war zone. Youths set up manned barricades just minutes from the National Palace while burning debris and felled trees in the streets. Police occasionally patrol the deserted streets of middle-class neighborhoods in Lalue and Champ de Mars and residents, mostly young women, scour houses and kiosks for drinking water.
Businesses, government offices and many embassies remained closed, and the government of the neighboring Dominican Republic evacuated its diplomats and sent troops to the border with Haiti.
Haiti’s fall into chaos has sparked growing calls for international intervention from neighboring Caribbean nations affected by the exodus of tens of thousands of Haitians from their countries.
“Haiti cannot wait any longer. Its current situation can be defined as a low-intensity civil war,” the President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, told the Organization of American States in Washington on Thursday. “We must act responsibly and we must act now.” The organization has not issued a public response.
In July, the prime minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, called Haiti a “failed nation” and told local media that Caribbean leaders were considering opening direct talks with the leaders. Haitian gangs to solve the country’s political crisis. The Bahamas has struggled to cope with record numbers of Haitians trying to cross their waters in Overcrowded ships en route to the United States.
Mr. Abinader has called for the construction of a wall to stem the flow of Haitians into the Dominican Republic, describing the collapse of the rule of law in Haiti as a national security threat.
On Thursday, he said that while the international community is always looking for a local political solution in Haiti, it should start looking at other options, a comment that has raised the specter of military intervention. the.
Haiti has a long and traumatic history of foreign interventions, covering almost 20 years occupied by the US Marines in the early 20th century, and most recently with the arrival of UN peacekeepers following the 2004 coup.
Shortly after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in July, his then prime minister, who briefly replaced him, call on the US to send troops to restore order and secure critical infrastructure.
The proposal was rejected by the Biden administration, which has struggled to balance its support for a local solution with its desire to redress.attract the influx of Haitians at its borders. The United States continued to support Mr. Henry even when evidence appeared about his links for the prime suspect in the assassination of Mr. Moïse and as the country descended into virtual anarchy.
“The Biden administration doesn’t care about the security situation in Haiti, what they care about is keeping a government that continues to accept Haitian deportees,” said Pierre Espérance, a prominent Haitian human rights activist, speak. “What they should do is start listening to the wishes of the Haitian people.”
Milo Milfort and Andre Paultre reported from Port-au-Prince, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Mexico City. Maria Abi-Habib contributed reporting from New York, and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City.