2024February 2024International NewsAmericas

Protests Surge in Haiti over Calls to Oust PM

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Andrea Hebel

It has been nearly three years since Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in a case that is still unsolved. Now, as the Caribbean country faces a crisis of rising gang violence, unsecure state authorities, spiking inflation, and a total absence of democratically-elected leaders, The Associated Press reports that protestors last week shut down major cities and demanded the resignation of appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

The protests caused the closure of banks, schools, and government agencies across the state. Photos show clashes between police and protestors blocking streets, firing tear gas, looting businesses, and setting cars and tires ablaze. The Associated Press continues that public transportation networks also shut down.

Five armed agents from the Security Brigade for Protected Areas, Haiti’s environmental protection agency, were killed in the violence after firing in the direction of police, according to Al Jazeera. The bureau is now in open rebellion against Henry’s administration.

Following Moïse’s assassination, an agreement was drafted in December 2022 that was supposed to see Henry hold elections and cede power by February 7, 2024. Al Jazeera continues that Henry’s lack of initiation to this end has led to the uptick in protests. The country has held no elections of any kind since 2016, the presidency is vacant, and with the term expiration of the country’s last 10 senators in 2023, the National Assembly is vacant, according to The Washington Post.

Several rebel leaders across Haiti have called for Henry’s resignation. Chief among them is Guy Philippe, a long-time rebel leader who led the 2004 uprising that resulted in the exile of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Philippe has called for “civil disobedience” across the country until Henry steps down and has appeared at protests across the country to garner support for a revolution.

According to The Washington Post, Philippe is a former police chief and senator from Northern Haiti. Philippe pled guilty to corruption charges in the U.S., brought on after he acknowledged taking bribes and protecting drug trafficking rings shipping cocaine through Haiti. He was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in U.S. federal prison for money laundering and returned to Haiti last year. Experts question the decision of U.S. officials to return Philippe to Haiti, especially at such a politically turbulent time. 

Philippe has also garnered the support of the Security Brigade for Protected Areas, which has recently come under scrutiny for its increased clashes with police. According to VOA, Haiti’s government has recently cracked down on the movement and activities of the agency’s members, announcing Jan. 29 that no armed agents may move throughout the country.

This order has not stopped the agency’s protest activity, however. Armed agents arrived at a protest in Hinche, according to the Associated Press, and their commander, Joseph Jean Baptiste, gave a rousing speech demanding Henry step down.

“I want Ariel to stand in front of my bullets, so they go through him,” the commander told a cheering group of protesters. “We’re the ones who have the support of the population.” 

Meanwhile, Henry has called for peace, breaking days of silence with a radio address on Feb. 8. ABC News reports that he urged Haitians to “put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” and to stop thinking of Haitian authorities as enemies. However, Henry has not responded with a concrete plan to restore democratic order or change the status quo.

The protests have died down in intensity, however there is still no end in sight for Haiti’s political crisis. Many Haitians remain hopeless, dismissing Henry’s words as propaganda, according to ABC.

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