Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry during the inauguration of his government, in Port-au-Prince, November 24, 2021 Valerie Baeriswyl
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry denounced, in an interview with AFP on Monday, an assassination attempt against his person, during the national day celebrations organized on Saturday in the city of Gonaïves.
“Something was tried against me, personally,” said the head of the Haitian government, who said he felt “in the crosshairs of the people”.
Ariel Henry is responsible for the management of current affairs since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by an armed commando on July 7.
Clashes between police and armed groups erupted on Saturday during national day celebrations in Gonaïves, 150 km north of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Under bursts of gunfire, Ariel Henry and the officials present were forced to flee the city where Haiti’s declaration of independence was signed on January 1, 1804.
In photos sent to AFP by his office, a bullet impact is visible on the windshield of the Prime Minister’s armored vehicle.
At the end of December, groups of citizens and members of armed gangs in Gonaïves, Haiti’s third largest city, violently expressed their opposition to the arrival of the Prime Minister.
– “Blackmail” –
“I knew I was running this risk,” confirmed Ariel Henry, reached by phone by AFP.
“We cannot accept that bandits from whatever background they are, for basely pecuniary reasons, want to blackmail the state,” he added, adding that gang members have asked to money in exchange for an attack-free visit to Gonaïves.
The assassination, six months ago, of the Haitian president in his private residence amplified the deep political crisis in which the Caribbean country has been stuck for years.
If several Haitian citizens, two Americans of Haitian origin and about fifteen Colombian nationals, presumed to be involved in the murder of Jovenel Moïse, have been imprisoned in the prison of Port-au-Prince since this summer, the investigation into the attack against the head of state shows no sign of progress.
Due to lack of sufficient evidence, one of the suspects, arrested in October in Jamaica, will be returned to Colombia, Jamaican media reported on Saturday.
Without a functioning parliament for two years and with a judiciary paralyzed by the lack of judges at the highest court in the country, Haiti is sinking into a governance crisis that exacerbates already endemic poverty.
The growing control of gangs on the national territory undermines the hopes of improving the living conditions of the population, victim of villainous kidnappings committed daily by armed gangs.
Two years after the departure of the last United Nations police officers from the country, the Prime Minister assures us that the national forces are able to restore security.
“Until now, I have never asked for foreign troops,” Ariel Henry told AFP on Monday, asking the international community for support in training “and possibly in equipment”.
“With our men, with the police, we are going to get there, we have to get there” he concluded.
Under-equipped in the face of gangs with an arsenal of war, the Haitian police face a lack of personnel, many agents having abandoned their posts to seek a better future abroad.
A police officer was also placed in isolation following an escape attempt on Friday afternoon, in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince. Ten inmates and a police officer were killed in the incident initiated by prisoners who were in possession of four firearms.
At least 950 kidnappings were recorded in Haiti in 2021, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, an organization based in Port-au-Prince.