Haiti leader urges calm, requests help in nation’s crisis

September 12, 2022 in Regional

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Prime Minister Ariel Henry asked Monday for international help in fighting gang violence in Haiti and pledged yet again to work toward holding elections as he marked the anniversary of being sworn into office following the president’s assassination.

The speech broadcast shortly after midnight followed a string of demonstrations across the country to protest worsening conditions, including gang violence, a severe lack of fuel and soaring inflation.

Henry promised that fuel would soon be available on a regular basis and he rejected accusations he is trying to hold onto power.

“That is not true,” he said, adding that the country should go into “electoral mode” before the end of the year — a vow he has made repeatedly since taking office last September.

However he has not moved to appoint an electoral council to oversee a vote and U.S. officials have said it will take that body six months to organize a vote.

Haiti currently has only 10 elected officials — all members of the Senate — since it failed to hold legislative elections in October 2019 at a time of political gridlock and massive protests.

President Jovenel Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year before was assassinated in July 2021.

Henry renewed appeals for international support to strengthen the police, fight corruption and improve the economy.

He also condemned the violence of recent protests, but acknowledged that multiple crises are hitting Haiti and many people are living in abject poverty.

“The country has a lot of problems,” he said. “I am calling on everyone to stay calm. The government is working with what it has.”

Gang-related violence and kidnappings have spiked and a growing number of Haitians are fleeing the country, with dozens dying in recent months in the sinking of rickety, overloaded smuggling boats.

Meanwhile, attempts to try those arrested in the assassination of Moïse have been stalled by the resignation of four judges appointed to oversee the investigation, with some saying they feared for their lives.

More than 40 people have been arrested in Haiti, including high-ranking police officers and a group of former Colombian soldiers. At least two of three suspects detained outside Haiti were extradited to the U.S., where they face charges including conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States.

Henry himself has come under suspicion. Last year he fired a chief prosecutor who had asked a judge to charge him. The prosecutor had asked the prime minister to explain why he spoke twice with a key suspect in the assassination just hours after the killing. Henry has denied any involvement.