Haiti’s PM Ariel Henry tenders resignation as country descends into chaos

The unelected Ariel Henry has agreed to demands to step down as violence and looting plague the country.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry has tendered his resignation and appealed for calm as the country descends into chaos.

The 74-year-old announced he would step aside late on Monday following an emergency meeting of regional nations. Haiti has been plagued by spiralling violence in recent weeks as armed gangs have taken control, calling for Henry to go.

Following the meeting in Jamaica, where Caribbean states called for a swift transition, Henry – who has led Haiti unelected since the 2021 assassination of its last president – spoke in a video address.

“The government that I am leading will resign immediately after the installation of [a transition] council,” Henry said. “I’m asking all Haitians to remain calm and do everything they can for peace and stability to come back as fast as possible.”

The erstwhile Haitian leader is currently stranded in the United States territory of Puerto Rico after being prevented by the threat from the gangs from returning home. A senior US official said he was free to remain there or travel elsewhere, though security in Haiti would need to improve for him to feel comfortable returning home.

The alliance of gangs, led by Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, went on the rampage when Henry left the country in late February, seeking to rally support for a Kenya-led foreign police intervention that his government had argued was necessary to restore order so elections could be held.

They had warned of civil war and genocide if Henry, who became prime minister after President Jovenel Moise’s assassination in 2021, did not step down.

Haiti has meanwhile descended into chaos, with widespread violence, looting of basic infrastructure and fears of a famine.

Regional leaders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) had held the emergency summit to discuss a framework for a political transition, which the US had urged to be “expedited” as armed gangs wreaked chaos amid repeatedly postponed elections.

Henry, viewed as corrupt by many in Haiti, was not at the summit, which took place behind closed doors. The Associated Press news agency said a spokesperson for Henry’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.

A man holding a Haitian flag above his head during unrest in Port-au-Prince. There are fires burning behind him and thick black smoke
Gangs went on the rampage in Port-au-Prince last week amid wider frustration at Henry’s refusal to leave office as agreed [Odelyn Joseph/AP]

The prime minister was supposed to step down in February. He has been effectively locked out of the country since the unrest spiralled, landing in Puerto Rico last week after being denied entry to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Mohamed Irfaan Ali, Guyana’s president and the current chair of CARICOM, said the emergency talks were seeking to bring “stability and normalcy” to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also at the summit and promised an additional $100m for a United Nations-backed force to stabilise the country as well as $30m in humanitarian assistance.

Blinken said the meeting was “critical” for Haiti and the region.

The US backed “a proposal developed in partnership with CARICOM and Haitian stakeholders to expedite a political transition through a creation of a broad-based, independent presidential college”, the US State Department said in a statement.

The body would be comprised of two observers and seven voting members, including representatives from a number of coalitions, the private sector, civil society and one religious leader.

It would be tasked with meeting the “immediate needs” of Haitian people, enabling the security mission’s deployment and creating security conditions necessary for free elections, Blinken said.

A US official in Puerto Rico said Henry had confirmed his resignation in a call with Blinken.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley speaks with Guyana President Irfaan Ali and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. She is in the middle between the two men. There are flags behind them.
The breakthrough came after a meeting of regional leaders of the Caribbean Community in Jamaica [Gilbert Bellamy/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies