Haiti’s prime minister condemns gangs and kidnappings in televised speech

Ariel Henry spoke after a widespread strike caused the closure of schools, businesses and public transportation.

In a prerecorded speech, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry condemned the recent increase in gang violence and kidnappings in the country, and assured Haitians that the nation is not running out of fuel, despite the severe shortage.

Henry’s speech, broadcast on Friday, was the first time the prime minister acknowledged these problems in public since the kidnapping of 17 members of a US-based missionary group on October 16. The 16 Americans, a Canadian and their Haitian driver were kidnapped amid a surge in gang-related kidnappings that police are struggling to control.

“If they don’t stop their wrongdoing, the law will apply to them,” Henry said in his message. “The only option for bandits and all their sponsors is imprisonment or death if they don’t want to change their profession.”

The leaders of the Haitian gang that kidnapped the missionaries demanded a ransom of $ 1 million per person to free them. [Joseph Odelyn/AP Photo]

The speech comes at a particularly tumultuous time for the tiny Caribbean island. Henry became prime minister about three months ago, after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7. A few weeks later, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and devastated the south of the country.

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that kidnapped the missionaries, including five children, has said he would kill them if his demands are not met. Haitian officials have said the gang is seeking $ 1 million per person, but that it was unclear if that included the children, the youngest of whom is eight months old.

Christian Aid Ministries, who had organized a trip to Haiti for the missionary group, in a statement published on Thursday said they expected the hostages to be released soon, despite the worsening political situation in the country.

“Haiti is in a state of anarchy without an active government,” according to the statement. “Gangs are in charge of many areas and [are] controlling fuel and goods in seaports. “

Henry’s speech also came days after a widespread strike caused the closure of schools, businesses and public transport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and beyond to protest against the lack of fuel and the worsening economic and economic situation. country security. Gangs have been blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals, and at least one gang leader said he would lift the blockade if Henry resigned.

The prime minister said that there are ships waiting to unload fuel and that the country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, will not run out of gasoline. He added that he has created a crisis unit with senior officials from the finance, justice, police, public works, commerce and other departments to find a “quick solution” to the fuel distribution problem.

The shortage has affected hospitals, ambulances, schools, public transportation, and many other parts of daily life.

“This is really catastrophic,” Solon Cledion, principal of a private school in Port-au-Prince, told The Associated Press news agency. “Day to day is difficult … We wonder how long this is going to last.”

Henry acknowledged the dire situation, noting that ventilator-dependent COVID-19 patients are among those at risk of dying if fuel is not available. In his speech, he congratulated a man who he said drove through dangerous communities to transport fuel and oxygen to a hospital and saved the lives of 60 patients.

Barbecue, leader of the G9 gang and Familia, says his group is protesting poverty and for justice in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. [Joseph Odelyn/AP Photo]

The prime minister said he is aware of the anger of the people and that his administration is tackling the country’s many problems.

“To all those who have legitimate demands, who have declared themselves fed up with inflation, poverty and insecurity, I guarantee that the government hears their voice,” he said. “Gangs are our enemies. There will be no real solution to the country’s problems if we do not arm ourselves with the courage to combat and eliminate this scourge ”.

Henry added that when he took office three months ago, he found a country that is “torn, divided, with a tattered state whose democratic institutions are dysfunctional.”


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