Powerful gang leader demands role in Haiti peace talks

2 weeks ago 29

Jimmy ChérizierImage source, Reuters

Image caption,

Jimmy 'Barbecue' Chérizier has emerged has one of the most powerful armed gang leaders in Haiti

By Morgan Gisholt Minard, in Cap-Haitien, Haiti

BBC News

One of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders says he would consider laying down weapons if armed groups were allowed to take part in talks to establish a new government.

Groups led by Jimmy Chérizier, also known as Barbecue, are in control of most of the capital Port-au-Prince.

He predicted the violence which has gripped Haiti in recent weeks could escalate in the coming days.

However, he told Sky News: "We are ready for solutions."

Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation home to more than 11 million people, has been without a prime minister since 12 March.

Ariel Henry resigned after being blocked by armed gangs from returning from Kenya, where he had signed a deal to import a military peacekeeping force in a bid to restore law and order.

Gangs have capitalised on the power vacuum and expanded their control over swathes of the country, which has effectively been rendered lawless in places.

A Presidential Transitional Council has been established to draw up a plan to return Haiti to democratic rule, backed by other Caribbean nations and the US.

Mr Chérizier - the most prominent figure in a loose alliance of gangs known as Viv Ansanm (Live Together), which is in control of around 80% of Port-au-Prince - believes his group should have a seat at the table in any future talks.

He told Sky News: "If the international community comes with a detailed plan where we can sit together and talk, but they do not impose on us what we should decide, I think that the weapons could be lowered."

He said he was "not proud" of the spiralling violence in Haiti, and warned the crisis could continue if groups like his - which rail against "corrupt politicians" - are not part of a future government.

He also said any Kenyan forces drafted into the country to bolster security would be considered "aggressors" and "invaders".

The situation in Haiti has been described as "cataclysmic" by the United Nations in a report issued earlier this week.

It said there had been more than 1,500 people killed and 800 injured in the first three months of 2024.

The report detailed the "harrowing practices" of the gangs, which are accused of using extreme violence and sexual abuse as a means of punishment and control.

Aid groups have reported difficulty in getting food and water into the capital, warning that millions are unable to find sustenance, with some on the verge of famine.

Haiti: The basics

  • The Caribbean country shares a border with the Dominican Republic and has an estimated population of 11.5 million
  • It has a land area of 27,800 sq km, which is slightly smaller than Belgium and about the same size as the US state of Maryland
  • Chronic instability, dictatorships and natural disasters in recent decades have left Haiti the poorest nation in the Americas
  • An earthquake in 2010 killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to infrastructure and the economy
  • A UN peacekeeping force was put in place in 2004 to help stabilise the country and only withdrew in 2017
  • In July 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in Port-au-Prince. Amid political stalemate, the country continues to be wracked by unrest and gang violence
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