The Haitian gang makes demands of the test of power with the government

A standoff between a powerful gang federation and the Haitian government is testing how much power both sides hold and threatens to further derail a paralyzed country where millions are struggling for fuel and water.

A former police officer who leads a gang alliance known as “G9 and family” has proposed his plan for Haiti’s future – including by seeking seats in the cabinet – by demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration grant amnesty. and the cancellation of arrest warrants against group members, a request that has so far remained unanswered.

In mid-September, the gang surrounded a major fueling terminal to demand Henry’s resignation and to protest a rise in oil prices after the prime minister announced that his administration could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.

That move, along with thousands of protesters blocking roads in the capital Port-au-Prince and other major cities, caused severe shortages, forcing hospitals to cut services, gas stations to close, and banks and shops. of grocery to limit hours.

In a recent video posted on Facebook, the G9 and family leader Jimmy Cherizier, nicknamed “Barbecue”, read a proposed plan to stabilize Haiti that includes the creation of a “Council of Wise Men” with a representative of each of the 10. members of Haiti. departments.

The gang is also asking for positions in Henry’s cabinet, according to the director of Haiti’s National Commission for Disarmament, Dismantling and Reintegration, speaking Thursday on Magik 9 radio station.

“It’s a symptom of their power, but also a symptom that they may fear what’s coming,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian policy expert at the University of Virginia, of the gang’s demands.

Henry and 18 members of his cabinet appealed almost a week ago for the deployment of foreign troops to crack down on violence and end the fuel lockdown, a proposal that has yet to be formally discussed by the United Nations Security Council, which has meets on Monday.

The gang, which has overwhelmed an understaffed and under-resourced police department, is likely wary of the potential deployment of specialized armed troops, Fatton said.

“They are trying to get the best deal they can get while to some extent they have the upper hand,” he said.

Gang demands are nothing new in Haiti and have grown more powerful since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

But such threats have been quickly quashed in the past with the help of the United Nations peacekeepers, Fatton said.

In the aftermath of a rebellion that ousted former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then-president Réné Préval ordered the gangs to lay down their arms. At first he did it peacefully, but receiving no results, he threatened them.

“He was told, ‘You will either disarm or you will die,'” Fatton said. “Some gangs have accepted the solution and others have been destroyed.”

He said special forces used drones and invaded the slums, which gangs have long monitored.

But gangs have played important political roles before: a gang leader helped launch the riot that removed Aristide, who refused to step down before his term ended in 2006. That leader, Butteur Metayer, had been a supporter of Aristide, but he opposed him after his brother, also a gang leader, was killed in 2003.

Fatton said that while the call to give cabinet positions to Cherizier’s gang federation is “a foolish proposition,” he added that an amnesty involving the renouncing of weapons could be a solution.

“The government saves face, the gangs say ‘We got what we wanted’ and there is a compromise,” he said.

But the request to cancel the arrest warrants would likely be rejected by the government, which has long been trying to arrest Cherizier on suspicion of orchestrating one of the worst massacres in the country, in which dozens of men, women and children were killed.

Haitian officials have warned the international community that the situation is dire, noting that a recent cholera outbreak could also worsen due to limited water and other basic supplies.

On Friday, UNICEF warned that nearly 100,000 children under the age of 5 already suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are vulnerable to cholera: “The crisis in Haiti is increasingly a crisis of children.”

It is becoming a crisis for women as well. The United Nations Population Fund said on Friday that 30,000 pregnant women are at risk because about three-quarters of Haiti’s hospitals are unable to provide services due to a lack of fuel.

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