Haiti gang leaders demand prime minister's resignation amid power cuts and fuel shortages

Aid groups say situation on the ground is the worst they have seen

Haiti's streets were unusually quiet on Tuesday and filling stations remained dry as gangs blocked the entrance to ports that hold fuel stores and the country's main gang leader demanded that Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.

Days-long fuel shortages have left Haitians with few transport options and forced the closure of some businesses. Hospitals, which rely on diesel generators due to constant power cuts, may shut down as well.

The situation has put further pressure on a population already struggling under a weakening economy and a wave of gang kidnappings, which include the abduction of a group of Canadian and American missionaries earlier this month.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, leader of the “G9" coalition of gangs in the metropolitan area of the capital, Port-au-Prince, said in a radio interview on Monday night that he would ensure safe passage of fuel lorries if Mr Henry leaves office.

“The areas under the control of the G9 are blocked for one reason only – we demand the resignation of Ariel Henry,” Mr Cherizier said in an interview on Haiti's Radio Mega.

“If Ariel Henry resigns at 8am, at 8.05am we will unblock the road and all the lorries will be able to go through to get fuel.”

A representative for Mr Henry's office did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to contact Mr Cherizier.

His remarks show how gangs have taken on an increasingly political role after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

The gang leader has said Mr Henry should “answer questions” linking him to the murder of Mr Moise. Mr Henry has denied any involvement.

Smoke from the burning of rubbish in Port-au-Prince during a general strike and fuel shortages. AP

Elections had originally been scheduled for November but were suspended after Mr Henry last month dismissed the council that organises elections, which critics had accused of being biased in favour of Mr Moise.

Mr Henry has promised to appoint a non-partisan council that will set a new date.

Kidnappings have been in the headlines for months as Haitians from all walks of life face abduction by the increasingly powerful gangs.

The missionaries travelling as part of a trip organised by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries were abducted by a gang called 400 Mawozo that operates east of the capital and is seeking a ransom of $1 million for each person.

Christian Aid Ministries asked people on Tuesday to remember both those “being held hostage, as well as those recovering from the experience of being kidnapped.”

The State Department said last week the US government had dispatched a “small team” to assist in efforts to locate and free the missionaries.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday the US had sent “a significant number of law enforcement specialists and hostage recovery specialists” to Haiti.

Warning for businesses

Haiti's foreign aid bureau, BMPAD, which oversees fuel procurement, tweeted a video saying the country had 150,000 barrels of diesel and 50,000 barrels of petrol, with another 50,000 barrels of petrol set to arrive on Wednesday.

A total of 100,000 barrels of diesel and petrol would meet Haiti's fuel needs for five to seven says, said Marc Andre Deriphonse, head of the country's service-station owners' association, Anapross.

Businesses have been issuing warnings that they may have to halt operations for lack of fuel. Telecoms operators said some cell towers are no longer functioning.

“This is the worst I have seen,” said one motorcycle taxi driver waiting to pick up passengers outside Port-au-Prince, when asked about the fuel shortages.

Motorcycle drivers strap one-gallon containers to their bikes in the hopes of filling them with fuel sold on the black market. A gallon of petrol on the street can now fetch $20, compared with typical filling-station prices of about $2.

Updated: October 27, 2021, 7:56 AM