Violence erupted near the Haitian capital on Wednesday resulting in the deaths of five agents belonging to an environmental protection agency amid widespread protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
The unrest has gripped Haiti since Monday, with demonstrators in Port-au-Prince and beyond demanding Henry’s departure in adherence to a political accord established in 2022.
A police source revealed to AFP that the fatal confrontation occurred when the five agents from the National Agency for Protected Areas, a government entity now in open rebellion, refused to surrender their weapons and instead fired at law enforcement personnel. Three additional members of the agency were subsequently apprehended.
Under an agreement forged in December 2022 following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021, Henry was mandated to organize elections and relinquish power to newly elected officials by February 7, 2024. However, Henry has retained his position, expressing intentions to form a national unity government.
Expressing the urgency of the situation, a motorcycle taxi driver participating in the protests conveyed to AFP, “This Wednesday is D-Day. It’s the day when Ariel Henry must leave office.” The protester, who requested anonymity, voiced hope for Henry’s compliance, warning of the people’s determination if their demands remain unmet.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, has long grappled with instability, exacerbated by rampant gang activity and a debilitated economy. The absence of elections since 2016 and the lingering presidential vacancy following Moise’s assassination have deepened the country’s turmoil.
Amid the protests, impassioned voices resonate with grievances over the government’s inability to address systemic challenges. A 40-year-old unemployed protester lamented Henry’s failure to provide solutions, highlighting the dire circumstances endured by Haitians amidst gang violence and socioeconomic hardships.
The protests, spearheaded by various opposition factions and joined by members of the environmental agency, coincide with February 7, a significant date marking the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. Reports of attacks on a police station in the northeastern province and widespread disruptions across the nation underscore the intensity of the ongoing unrest. As tensions escalate, neighboring Dominican Republic announced heightened border security in response to the escalating violence.