Why Is Haiti Descending Into A State Of Anarchy?

Haiti has been gripped by intense violence since February 29, as armed gangs seek to topple the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. After the gangs attacked capital city Port-au-Prince's airport and freed nearly 3,800 prisoners in a jailbreak, Haiti's future looks to be uncertain.

Why Is Haiti Descending Into A State Of Anarchy?

The future of Haiti’s government is in doubt, after a coordinated spate of violence across the country broke out on February 29. Among the chaos, armed gangs orchestrated an attack on the country’s international airport in Port-au-Prince, and freed more than 3,800 prisoners in a jailbreak. The ongoing violence is seen by many as premeditated, with the intent of removing Haiti’s prime minister Ariel Henry from office. 

Haiti is a state gripped by severe political instability, with powerful armed gangs having usurped the state’s sovereignty in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. More than 8,400 people have been reported killed, injured or kidnapped in 2023, twice as high as the number reported in 2022.

Haiti’s government declared a three-day emergency on February 5, and imposed curfews to stymie the violence, but police were reluctant to engage armed gangs over fears of being outgunned.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry is reportedly in Kenya, seeking to finalize a deal for the deployment of a foreign armed force to help maintain order. Many other senior government ministers and officials are also said to be away from the Caribbean country. Ariel Henry has led Haiti since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 at the hands of Colombian mercenaries in suspicious circumstances. Reportedly, Henry’s private jet was prevented from landing at Port-au-Prince airport on March 5, and he is currently in Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan.

Jimmy Chérizier, whose nom de guerre is Barbecue, is widely believed to be the chief culprit of the attacks and ongoing violence. Chérizier is a former police officer who has been accused of orchestrating several massacres and for organizing a fuel blockade in 2022 that paralyzed the country for over two months. Chérizier’s gang, G9 Family and Allies, has reportedly made peace with its chief rival gang G-Pep.

Chérizier has in the past called on citizens to rise up against the government, and in this week’s round of violence, has openly claimed that he would try to capture the country’s police chief, high ranking officials and government ministers. “With our guns and with the Haitian people, we will free the country,” said Chérizier in a 9-minute video posted online. The attack on the Port-au-Prince airport is intended to dissuade Henry and other government officials from returning to the country.

Haiti is a country without elected officials, as the last 10 remaining senators in Parliament resigned over a year ago in January 2023. Haiti is also widely considered a failed state plagued by a series of overlapping crises, as there is no constitutional representation at any level, and gang violence has engulfed a country mired in poverty, and undergoing a malnutrition crisis.

A country of approximately 12 million, Haiti is on the verge of famine and struggling with another outbreak of cholera. The World Food Program (WFP) has designated Haiti a Level 5 hunger alert, the highest category of concern, as nearly half of the country’s population battles acute hunger.

Armed gangs now control nearly 75% of the nation’s capital, and Prime Minister Henry has been desperately trying to get a foreign armed force to Haiti to restore order. Last week, it was announced that Henry had managed to renegotiate a deal with President William Ruto of Kenya for the African state to lead a UN-authorized international police force in Haiti. The deal had earlier been scrapped after it was ruled unconstitutional by the Kenyan high court.

Chérizier has issued warnings claiming that the country will descend into complete civil war if Prime Minister Henry does not voluntarily step down.