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Haiti transitional government takes power amid gang violence

3 min

Haiti's transition council took power in a ceremony on Thursday, formalizing the resignation of former Prime Minster Ariel Henry as the Caribbean country seeks to establish security after years of gang violence wreaking chaos and misery.

U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Dennis Hankins talks with Police Chief Frantz Elbe after Haiti’s transitional council ceremony, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 25, 2024. Reuters/Ralph Tedy Erol

Haiti's transition council took power in a ceremony on Thursday, formalizing the resignation of former Prime Minster Ariel Henry as the Caribbean country seeks to establish security after years of gang violence wreaking chaos and misery.

Henry's finance minister, Michel Patrick Boisvert, will be interim prime minister until the transition council appoints a new head of government, a cabinet and a provisional electoral council set to pave the way for an eventual vote.

"Today is an important day in the life of our dear republic, this day in effect opens a view to a solution," Boisvert said after the formal swearing-in of the nine-person transition council on Thursday morning.

Even as the council was sworn in, local media reported houses being set on fire and shooting in capital Port-au-Prince's downtown and Delmas areas, posting photos of tall columns of gray smoke rising above the skyline.

Armed gangs, equipped with weapons trafficked largely from the United States, have for years tightened their grip on the capital and sought to topple Henry. Since he pledged to resign last month, they have called for a broader "revolution".

Earlier this week, gang leader Jimmy "Barbeque" Cherizier warned members of the transition council to "brace" themselves.

Unverified voice recordings circulated on social media over the weekend, which users attributed to Cherizier, in which Cherizier appeared to order his soldiers to indiscriminately burn houses in Lower Delmas, an impoverished part of the capital where he grew up.

At the ceremony, Boisvert and members of the transition council were flanked by top police and military officials. It was hosted amid tight security at the prime minister's office known as Villa d'Accueil.

Henry announced last month he would resign once the council was in place, initially expected to happen within a couple of days but delayed amid disagreements as to who should sit on it.

Henry had left Haiti in late February seeking support for the country's outgunned police, but was left stranded in Puerto Rico as the gangs threatened to completely take over the capital. Boisvert has served as acting prime minister in Henry's absence.

The transitional government's mandate runs until February 2026, by when there are slated to be elections, and cannot be renewed. No date has been set for its naming of a new prime minister or council president.

SECOND PHASE

"We just hope the council will quickly choose a president or coordinator in order to move onto the second phase, which is the appointment of a prime minister and the members of government," said James Boyard, a security expert at the State University of Haiti.

"The new transitional government has a lot of work ahead of it, and alongside security all the issues are urgent."

Diego Da Rin, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, warned of tensions within the council as different factions jostled for power, and a "long and rocky road ahead."

The council's installation is seen as a key step to deployment of a multinational security mission Henry requested back in 2022 and the United Nations approved over six months ago. Though Kenya offered to lead this mission, plans were put on hold last month pending the establishment of a new Haitian government.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the multinational force to happen quickly to help tackle the "dire" situation, his spokesperson said on Thursday. The mission has received less cash and troops than the U.N. has said it needs.

The council members must, as per the government decree installing them, support the "accelerated deployment" of the mission. But some Haitians are wary after previous international interventions left behind a deadly cholera outbreak and sexual abuse scandal.

Others are hopeful the mission could help restore much-needed security and pave the way for eventual elections.

According to U.N. estimates, more than 2,500 people were killed or injured in gang violence from January through March, while hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced and millions are facing catastrophic hunger.

Key ports have been closed for weeks, but on Thursday Florida-based non-profit Hope for Haiti said a first humanitarian flight since the capital's airport shut down over a month ago had landed in Port-au-Prince: a U.S. military plane bringing 20 pallets of rehydration solution for cholera patients.

The U.S. government welcomed the installation of the council on Thursday, saying it marked a step towards free and fair elections, while the neighboring Dominican Republic's foreign minister said it marked "an important step."

Countries in the region have bolstered border security and many have been deporting Haitians seeking to migrate abroad, despite U.N. criticisms.

The council members installed were the same as announced last week: seven voting members, all men, including representatives from various political parties as well as former diplomats, a barrister, and a businessman, and two non-voting observers: a pastor and former government adviser.

"We continue the fight for the transformation of our country," former central bank governor Fritz Alphonse Jean, one of the council members, said on X. "The country needs the talents of all its sons and daughters here and in the diaspora for the construction of the new Haiti."

(Reporting by Steven Aristil in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland, Kylie Madry, Valentine Hilaire, Sarah Kinosian and Stephen Eisenhammer in Mexico City; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

Reporting by Steven Aristil in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland, Kylie Madry, Valentine Hilaire, Sarah Kinosian and Stephen Eisenhammer in Mexico City

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