What is Happening in Haiti?

Political Turmoil in Haiti: Prime Minister Ariel Henry Steps Down Amid Security Crisis

Freetown, Sierra Leone
Photo taken by Bunting Amir Kargbo

Photo by Bunting Kargbo / Unsplash

Key points:

  • Gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier announced an alliance of G9 with other gangs to pressure Henry to resign, with Haiti's PM reportedly agreeing to do so early on the 12th of March.

  • During the outbreak of the escalated unrest, Finance Minister Patrick Boivert declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew to restore order

  • Armed gangs attempted to seize control of the main international airport and attacked the police academy

  • The state of emergency was extended until April 3 in the Ouest Department, including nightly curfews and protest bans

  • The US military conducted an operation to evacuate non-essential embassy personnel due to the escalating crisis

  • The crisis led to the displacement of thousands of people in February alone

  • The violence has severely disrupted economic activities and humanitarian aid delivery

  • March 4 saw gangs attempting to seize control of the main international airport, leading to a shootout with security forces

  • Mass jailbreak from two major prisons, resulting in over 4,700 prisoners escaping

  • The U.N.'s top human rights official warned that the situation in Haiti is "beyond untenable."


For the last few weeks, Haiti has been teetering on the edge of a complete collapse or a state takeover as violent criminal groups attempt to overthrow the government by attacking police officers and state institutions, including prisons. These actions have severely disrupted economic activity, the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid, and almost all forms of transportation, including the main port and international airport of the country. Criminal groups, which control much of the country, including nearly all of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have killed over 1, 100 people and injured nearly 700 others just since the start of 2024, according to the UN.

Latest developments

Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry has resigned amid the deepening crisis in the country. His departure follows intensified violence and the inability to return home due to control by armed gangs. He had been expected to step down for several days, especially after regional leaders discussed Haiti's transition to a new government in Jamaica. Despite his resignation being a key demand by the gangs, the situation remains volatile, with the gangs seeking inclusion in any new power-sharing arrangement.

The US has pledged substantial funds to support the upcoming UN-backed security force expected to be led by Kenya, reflecting continuing international concern and involvement. The transitional council in Haiti is set to swiftly appoint an interim prime minister and will exclude any members intending to run in upcoming elections from participation.

The recent surge in violence reached its peak on February 29 when Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled to Kenya to advocate for the U. N.-backed deployment of a police force to combat the gangs. Gunfire echoed throughout the capital as gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier announced that his group, G9, was joining forces with other gangs to pressure Henry to resign. In Henry's absence, Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, acting Haiti's prime minister, declared a state of emergency on March 3. He also implemented an evening curfew to restore order. Despite Henry's absence from the country, Cherizier warned on March 5 that failure to resign and continued international support would escalate to a civil war and potential genocide. On March 4, heavily armed gangs attempted to seize control of Haiti's main international airport, engaging in gunfire with police and soldiers. The attack was part of a surge of violence targeting key government sites, including a mass jailbreak from the country's two largest prisons, resulting in over 4, 700 prisoners escaping. Following the airport assault, officials reported that an armed gang also attacked Haiti's police academy. Toussaint Louverture International Airport was closed during the attack, with no operational planes or passengers on site.

An attack on the police academy, where over 800 cadets are in training, was successfully repelled on March 5 with the arrival of reinforcements, as confirmed by Lionel Lazarre of the Haitian police union. The following day, a new police station in the Bas-Peu-de-Chose neighborhood of Port-au-Prince was also set on fire. This information was provided by the leader of the SYNAPOHA police union in a statement to the Agence France-Presse news agency. According to a tally by SYNAPOHA, at least 10 police buildings have been destroyed since the beginning of the unrest. On March 7, the government of Haiti extended a state of emergency until April 3 in the Ouest Department, where the capital, Port-au-Prince, is located. This measure, first imposed on March 2, includes nightly curfews and bans on protests. However, various rights groups have stated that these actions have done little to curb the violence.

In response to these events, the US military carried out an operation in Haiti on March 10 to airlift non-essential embassy personnel from the Caribbean country amid a state of emergency. Additional personnel were brought in to enhance security at the compound in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The crisis has led to the internal displacement of 5, 000 people in the last week of February alone.

Possible Implications

The situation in Haiti has been fraught with political instability and violence, leading to a dire humanitarian situation that necessitates international intervention. The intended deployment of Kenyan forces to aid in stabilizing the country and protecting civilians is a reflection of Kenya's commitment to international peacekeeping and the recognition of the need for support in Haiti. However, this mission is characterized by a set of complex challenges.

The Haitian Prime Minister's frustrations emerge from the domestic legal challenges the government of Kenya faces. Opposition members have voiced their concerns about deploying police forces rather than military personnel. These concerns have led to legal actions requesting that courts determine the legality of such a deployment. Despite these hurdles, the Kenyan government has continued with tactical and operational preparations, signaling its readiness to engage in the international peacekeeping mission. In doing so, they have also negotiated with the United Nations to secure funding for the operation, indicating the advanced stage of the preparations.

In Haiti, the escalating crisis is creating an increasingly dangerous environment for a peacekeeping force. This is not just a concern for the Kenyan forces but also for local politicians in Haiti who are caught between the urgent need for peace and the risks involved with introducing an inexperienced foreign force into such a volatile situation. The international community, including the United States, has shown support for Kenya's decision by pledging support and resources. This international backing is crucial as it underscores the global community's commitment to restoring peace and stability in Haiti.

The Kenyan-led mission finds itself in delicate theater. The mission is balancing the urgent need for intervention against the risks associated with sending a force on its first mission into an increasingly tumultuous situation. The potential efficacy of the mission is being questioned due to the escalating crisis in Haiti, which could hinder the peacekeepers' ability to operate effectively and safely.

The crisis has created a vacuum of authority, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that touches every aspect of life for its citizens. The breakdown of public order has made it increasingly difficult for diplomatic missions to operate, forcing many to evacuate staff, which in turn further diminishes the international presence and oversight that might help contain the chaos. Gangs and vigilantes have taken control of significant portions of the supply chain, leading to shortages of food, medicine, and other critical supplies for vulnerable populations. The disruption means that aid and resources cannot reach those in need, compounding the suffering of the populace. Incidences of rape and other forms of sexual violence, particularly against young girls and women, have surged in urban centers. This has led to a rise in unwanted pregnancies, contributing to a public health crisis that is compounded by a lack of access to adequate healthcare, threatening the lives of mothers, fetuses, and infants. With the breakdown of basic services, access to safe shelter and proper sanitation facilities has deteriorated. People are at a greater risk of exposure to the elements and to health issues arising from unsanitary living conditions.

The widespread use of machetes and makeshift firearms by gangs has instilled terror among citizens, particularly those caught in the crossfire of rival gang territories or those who resist gang control. This unchecked brutality not only undermines any semblance of safe living conditions but also makes the possibility of stabilizing the country seem distant.

The conditions described highlight the near collapse of state functions. A government's basic role is to protect its citizens, maintain order, and provide services, and in Haiti, these functions are being undermined or have ceased to exist in many areas due to the power wielded by gangs and the absence of a strong central authority. The urgent need for a peacekeeping and stabilization force, whether from Kenya or another international contributor, is clear. However, the effectiveness of such a mission will depend on the ability to address not only the security situation but also coordinate humanitarian relief to restore basic services and protect vulnerable populations. The international community faces a pivotal role in supporting peacekeeping efforts, both in terms of providing security forces with the resources and mandate needed to restore order and in coordinating humanitarian aid to ensure it reaches those in need. Success will hinge on overcoming the legal and operational challenges faced by countries like Kenya and on formulating a coherent strategy that addresses the multifaceted nature of the crisis.

Also, the situation in Haiti is characterized by escalating violence and the targeted degradation of the state's capacity to enforce law and order. Gangs have stepped into the power vacuum left by a weakened state apparatus, and their increasing boldness in attacking police and security infrastructure is deeply troubling.

Gang attacks on security forces and infrastructure not only compromise the immediate ability of the police to maintain order but also signal a broader challenge to the state’s sovereignty. The overt and systematic nature of these attacks suggests that the gangs are not merely engaging in episodic confrontations but are methodically working to undercut the government's authority and its control over the security apparatus. The core principle that defines a sovereign state: its monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its territory is being directly challenged as gangs assert their dominance, with the police increasingly becoming defensive rather than maintaining their role as the primary enforcers of law and order.

The overt and aggressive actions of gangs indicate that international forces will be entering an extremely hostile environment where non-state actors have shown their capability and willingness to engage state forces directly. With police stations and other security infrastructure being destroyed, the incoming peacekeepers will have fewer in-country resources to rely on, which will necessitate bringing in more of their own equipment and setting up secure operating bases. The suspicion that the police may be colluding with certain gangs adds a layer of complexity to the peacekeeping mission. It questions the reliability of potential local partners and increases the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe.

In response to these challenges, the international community, including Kenya and its supporters, must devise a strategy that addresses both the security and humanitarian aspects of the crisis. Peacekeepers will require a robust mandate that allows them to protect civilians, engage hostile elements effectively, and support the re-establishment of state authority. Accurate and timely intelligence will be crucial to understand gang dynamics, anticipate attacks, and protect both peacekeepers and civilians. Despite the challenges, collaboration with local security forces remains important, provided they can be vetted for reliability and the absence of compromise by gang affiliations. Humanitarian Assistance: Security efforts must be coupled with humanitarian aid, addressing the immediate needs of the population and providing support to rebuild infrastructure. Ultimately, international forces will need to be prepared for a complex mission that goes beyond traditional peacekeeping, potentially involving active combat and counter-insurgency operations against a backdrop of providing humanitarian aid and support for rebuilding state capacity.

The influence of gangs in Haiti, particularly in the current political landscape, underscores the depth of the nation's crisis. The boldness of gang leaders like Cherizier in demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister illustrates a flagrant challenge to the formal political process and the authority of the state. The fact that gangs have long operated within Haiti's political sphere is not a new phenomenon, but their recent assertiveness indicates a disturbing shift. Their willingness to exert pressure publicly on the nation's political leadership reflects their confidence in the power they hold. The gangs appear to be transitioning from behind-the-scenes manipulators to overt power brokers.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 left a significant power vacuum that has been exploited by these gangs. Their obstinance and apparent influence have been exacerbated by the absence of strong government leadership and the ensuing political turmoil. In such environments, non-state actors like gangs can consolidate power, often leading to further destabilization. The Prime Minister's absence from the country due to insecurity signals a substantial governance crisis. It emboldens gang leaders who perceive the weakness of the government as an opportunity to advance their own agendas. Cherizier's public utterances are symptomatic of a broader reality in which gangs operate with impunity and see themselves as legitimate stakeholders, or even kingmakers, in the political arena. The evolving role of gangs in Haiti’s politics complicates any potential international intervention. The blurred lines between criminality, political activism, and armed insurgency create a highly volatile situation. Any peacekeeping or stabilization force must be prepared to contend not just with maintaining public order but also with navigating a complex political landscape where the line between criminal and political actors is often blurred. Consequently, there must be strategies to engage with the political dimensions of the crisis carefully, recognizing the influence of gang leaders without legitimizing their criminal activities. Efforts must be concentrated on restoring the governance capacity of the state and ensuring that legitimate government institutions are supported to regain control and credibility. Security forces must strike a balance between maintaining order and opening avenues for negotiation, where possible, to reduce gang influence without escalating violence.

The rapid deterioration of the situation in Haiti and the ensuing humanitarian emergency call for immediate regional attention and action. The meeting scheduled in Jamaica between the US Secretary of State and regional leaders signifies the gravity of the situation and the recognition of the need for a coordinated regional response.

Countries in the Western Hemisphere are directly affected by the instability in Haiti due to their geographic proximity. Issues such as mass migration, trafficking, and regional security are of paramount concern to these nations. Many countries in the region, including the United States, have historical and political ties to Haiti, which include previous interventions and ongoing diplomatic relations. There is a shared understanding that stability in one part of the region positively affects the whole, fostering a sense of collective responsibility among the nations in the Western Hemisphere.

As the most influential power in the region with a history of direct involvement in Haiti, the United States' approach to the current crisis is being closely watched. It has a strategic interests in ensuring stability in its neighborhood and has often led regional responses to crises. It has significant diplomatic clout to convene discussions, build coalitions, and shape the regional agenda. With its vast military and economic resources, the U.S. is well-positioned to support both peacekeeping operations and humanitarian aid initiatives. Given the complexities of past interventions in Haiti and the lessons learned, the U.S. is approaching the situation with caution, likely seeking to support a multi-national response that shares the burden and reduces the risk of unilateral intervention.

The decision to involve international forces led by Kenya can be seen as part of a broader strategy to diversify the peacekeeping response and to involve non-traditional contributors to the stabilization efforts. Kenya’s involvement signifies a global acknowledgment of the crisis in Haiti and the willingness of countries outside the Western Hemisphere to contribute to the peacekeeping effort. By sharing the responsibility of peacekeeping operations with nations such as Kenya, regional players can mitigate risks and avoid overextension of their own security forces. The Kenya-led mission underlines the importance of global partnership and cooperation in addressing international crises, showcasing a united front beyond regional borders.

The escalating crisis in Haiti, therefore, presents an immediate need for a coordinated regional response that is prudent, reflects the lessons from past interventions, and aligns with the principle of shared responsibility. The U.S. meeting with regional players in Jamaica is a critical step towards forging a plan of action that includes both immediate measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and longer-term solutions for peace and stability, including support for the Kenya-led international forces.

Future Outlook:

  • International Intervention Dynamics: The crisis in Haiti demands a continuous international response, involving non-traditional contributors, to address political instability and escalating violence and to support stabilization efforts.

  • Challenges of Deployment: The deployment of international forces, like Kenyan troops, is met with complex challenges, including legal hurdles and operational difficulties.

  • Gang Dominance and Political Influence: Gangs in Haiti hold significant power, challenging the authority of the state and influencing political processes. International response must navigate this complex landscape, balancing efforts to maintain order with strategies to address underlying governance issues.

  • Strategic Planning for Long-Term Stability: Addressing the crisis in Haiti requires a comprehensive strategy that combines immediate humanitarian relief with longer-term initiatives aimed at restoring governance capacity and fostering stability.

  • Humanitarian Relief: The humanitarian crisis in Haiti calls for a sustained and robust international response aimed at delivering essential aid to affected populations. As the situation worsens, ensuring the efficient delivery of food, medicine, shelter, and other critical supplies remains of utmost importance.

Safety & Security Recommendations

Given the ongoing instability and the recent resignation of the Prime Minister, organizations with personnel and operational presence in Haiti are strongly advised to closely monitor the situation. As conditions on the ground are rapidly changing and remain unpredictable, it is paramount to stay informed through reliable intelligence and security updates and follow the below recommendations:

  • Continuously assess the security landscape and tailor their emergency plans accordingly.

  • Be prepared to enact contingency plans, including sheltering in place or evacuation if necessary.

  • Consider permitting movements based on daily and hourly threat reporting activities.

  • Ensure that communication channels with local staff, security forces, and embassies remain open and functional.

  • Provide support and guidance to staff, keeping their safety as the top priority.

The situation in Haiti is complex and fluid, and it requires prudent actions to ensure the well-being of personnel on the ground. International response efforts are underway, but the immediate future remains uncertain. Organizations must be ready to respond to developments and adapt to the changing environment in Haiti.


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