Gang violence locks Haitian PM out of country amid mounting pressure to resign

Gang violence locks Haitian PM out of country amid mounting pressure to resign

  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s grip on power is being tested as he attempts to return to the Caribbean nation from a trip abroad.
  • Gang attacks have shuttered Haiti’s main international airport, and numerous officials have called on Henry to resign.
  • Henry has served as Haiti’s acting president and prime minister since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a catalyst for significant unrest in the country.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry is struggling to stay in power as he tries to return home, where gang attacks have shuttered the country’s main international airport and freed more than 4,000 inmates in recent days.

As of midday Wednesday, Henry remained in Puerto Rico, where he landed the day before after he was barred from landing in neighboring Dominican Republic because officials there closed the airspace to flights to and from Haiti.

Locked out of his country for now, Henry appears to face an impasse as a growing number of officials call for his resignation or nudge him toward it.


Here’s what to know about the embattled prime minister and the crisis he faces:

Who is Ariel Henry?

The 74-year-old neurosurgeon who trained and worked in southern France got involved in Haitian politics in the early 2000s, when he became leader of a movement that opposed then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

After Aristide was ousted, Henry became member of a U.S.-backed council that helped choose the transitional government.

In June 2006, he was named director-general of Haiti’s Ministry of Health and later became its chief of staff, helping to manage the government’s response to a devastating 2010 earthquake.

In 2015, he was named minister of the interior and territorial communities and became responsible for overseeing Haiti’s security and domestic policy.

Months later, he was appointed minister of social affairs and labor but faced calls for resignation after he quit the Inite party.

He then largely disappeared from the limelight, serving as a political consultant and working as a professor at Haiti’s medical university until he was installed as prime minister shortly after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who had selected him for that position.

Moïse’s party likely thought Henry would bring credibility and some kind of constituency, said Brian Concannon, executive director of the U.S.-based nonprofit Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

“It seems to me he must have been a pretty big figure. Presidents don’t just pick random people,” he said.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry gives a public lecture at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday March. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Kasuku)

Why Are People Demanding That Henry Resign?

Henry has faced calls for resignation ever since he was sworn in as prime minister with the backing of the international community.

Those demanding that he step down include gangs vying for political power and Haitians angry that general elections have not been held in nearly a decade. They also note that Henry was never elected and does not represent the people.

Concannon noted that Henry has served the longest single term of any Haitian prime minister since the country’s 1987 constitution was established.

“He was not appointed through any recognized Haitian procedure,” Concannon said. “He was basically installed by the courtroom.”

Henry has repeatedly said he seeks unity and dialogue and has noted that elections cannot be held until it’s safe to do so.

In February 2023, he formally appointed a transition council responsible for ensuring that general elections are held, calling it a “significant step” toward that goal.

But elections have been repeatedly delayed as gang-related killings and kidnappings surge across the country. Last year, more than 8,400 people were reported killed, injured or kidnapped, more than double the number reported in 2022.

Why is the Prime Minister Not in Haiti?

Henry left Haiti last month to attend a four-day summit in the South American country of Guyana organized by a regional trade bloc known as Caricom. That’s where Haiti’s worsening crisis was discussed behind closed doors.

While Henry did not speak to the media, Caribbean leaders said that he promised to hold elections in mid-2025. A day later, coordinated gang attacks began in Haiti’s capital and beyond.

Henry then departed Guyana for Kenya last week to meet with President William Ruto and to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force, which a court in the East African country ruled was unconstitutional.

Officials never said when Henry was due back in Haiti following the trip to Kenya, and his whereabouts were unknown for several days until he unexpectedly landed Tuesday in Puerto Rico to the surprise of many.

He was originally scheduled to land in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, but the government closed its airspace and said Henry’s plane did not have the required flight plan.


What Happens Now?

Caribbean leaders spoke to Henry late Tuesday and presented him with several options, including resigning, which he rejected, according to a regional official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to share details of the call.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of Grenada said Henry told officials that his plan is to return to Haiti.

The U.N. Security Council planned to hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday to talk about Haiti and the troubles Henry faces.

Ahead of that meeting, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the U.S. and its partners are asking Henry to make concessions.

“So we are not calling on him or pushing him to resign, but we are urging him to expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive governance structure” Miller said.

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