Haitian prime minister resigns as gang leader 'Barbecue' steps into power vacuum

Jimmy Chérizier, aka 'Barbecue', is one of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders and has stated 'the people will choose who will govern them', International Editor Rageh Omaar reports

Haitian politicians are scrambling for power in the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Henry announcing that he will resign once a transitional presidential council is created.

After bowing to international pressure to save a country overwhelmed by violent gangs - Henry has made way for the leaders of powerful groups to now elbow their way into power.

It is understood that gangs control 80% of Haiti's capital and demand a say in the future of the country they currently have under siege.

Who is the 'Barbecue' and what does he plan to do next?

Gangs have long been linked with Haiti's elite and more than 200 are estimated to operate across the country.

More than 20 operate in the capital and rally around two main factions: G9 Family and Allies led by Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as “Barbecue”; and G-Pep, led by Gabriel Jean-Pierre, who is allied with Johnson André, leader of the 5 Seconds gang and known as “Izo.”

It is Chérizier who has led violent attacks against government targets and essentially cowed Henry into resigning.

Jimmy Chérizier aka 'Barbecue' is one of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders and has stated 'the people will choose who will govern them'. Credit: AP

“It’s the Haitian people who know what they’re going through,” Chérizier said.

"It’s the Haitian people who are going to take destiny into their own hands. Haitian people will choose who will govern them."

At an impromptu press conference he rejected any solution led and supported by the wider international community, threating that intervention would "plunge Haiti into further chaos".

It’s unclear whether Chérizier, considered Haiti’s most powerful gang leader, and other armed groups will accept the plan to create a transitional council.

The council will be responsible for appointing an interim prime minister, and the new leader will work with the council to select a council of ministers.

Guyana President Irfaan Ali said the transitional council would have seven voting members and two nonvoting ones.

The seven voting members include three traditional political parties, a civil-society group known as the Montana Accord and members of the country’s powerful private sector.

How did the resignation announcement unfold?

Henry made the announcement hours after officials including Caribbean leaders and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Jamaica to urgently discuss a solution to halt Haiti’s spiraling crisis and agreed to a joint proposal to establish a transitional council.

“The government that I’m running cannot remain insensitive in front of this situation. There is no sacrifice that is too big for our country,” Henry said in a video statement.

“The government I’m running will remove itself immediately after the installation of the council.”

Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created. Credit: AP

Henry has been unable to enter Haiti because the violence closed its main international airports.

He had arrived in Puerto Rico a week ago, after being barred from landing in the Dominican Republic, where officials said he lacked a required flight plan. Dominican officials also closed the airspace to flights to and from Haiti.

It was not immediately clear who would be chosen to lead Haiti out of the crisis in which heavily armed gangs have burned police stations, attacked the main airport and raided two of the country’s biggest prisons.

The raids resulted in the release of more than 4,000 inmates.

Scores of people have been killed, and more than 15,000 are homeless after fleeing neighborhoods raided by gangs.

Food and water are dwindling as stands and stores selling to impoverished Haitians run out of goods.

The main port in Port-au-Prince remains closed, stranding dozens of containers with critical supplies.

“Even if you have a different kind of government, the reality is that you need to talk to the gangs,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia. “You can’t suppress them.”

He said officials will still have to deal with them and try to convince them to give up their weapons, adding “but what would be their concessions?”.

Mr Fatton noted that gangs have supremacy in terms of controlling the capital.

“If they have that supremacy, and there is no countervailing force, it’s no longer a question if you want them at the table, they may just take the table,” he said.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue runs the gang federation in Haiti. Credit: AP

'Barbecue' told reporters that if the international community continues down the current road, “it will plunge Haiti into further chaos”.

He said: "Today, we are taking the occasion to tell the international community to give Haiti a chance.

"Because what is happening in Haiti now, we Haitians have to decide who is going to lead the country and what model of government we want.

"We are going to figure out how to get Haiti out of the misery it is in now."

He added: "Today it's clear that the people who live in the shanty towns are the ones who know what they are going through.

"It is the Haitian people who are going to take their destiny into their own hands. Haitian people will pick the person to govern them."

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