PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – Haiti’s most powerful gang leader called for the armed overthrow of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, urging Haitians to take to the streets against the unelected government in the latest escalation of a country undergoing humanitarian crisis.
Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, a former police officer who now heads a powerful coalition of gangs that controls large parts of Port-au-Prince, led his group of armed men on a march through the capital yesterday, blocking roads and banging drums.
“We are launching the fight to overturn Ariel Henry’s government in any way,” gang leader Cherizier told Reuters. “Our fight will be with weapons.”
He added that “demonstrations in all working-class neighborhoods” would take place daily against Henry’s government, which he said had no legitimacy.
Haitian gangs, which frequently engage police in gun battles and profit from activities such as extortion and drug trafficking, have grown in strength since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
The assassination created a power vacuum, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry governing on an interim basis since. Henry has pledged to hold elections once security is re-established, and has called for international help in fighting the gangs.
“The international community cannot continue to do this in Haiti,” Cherizier said. “If the international community has nothing to do with (Moise’s) death, they must not support Ariel Henry.”
Cherizier also said that residents of the densely populated Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood who left their homes because of gang violence would soon be able to return and live in peace.
The threat from Cherizier comes as Kenya assesses leading a multinational United Nations-backed force to help Haiti’s under-gunned police fight the gangs.
More than 19,000 people have been displaced from the capital in recent weeks due to the outbreak of armed violence, according to U.N. estimates.