Haiti’s new leaders vow to take on gangs

Haiti’s new leadership has vowed to take on criminal gangs as the arrival of a thousand Kenyan security forces hopes to bolster the country’s police force. The World’s host, Marco Werman, speaks with AyiboPost editor-in-chief, Widlore Mérancourt.

The World

Haiti has new leadership, and authorities there are vowing to take on the criminal gangs that control much of the country. Prime Minister Garry Conille, who’s been in office for just two weeks, announced a slate of cabinet ministers on Tuesday.

Garry Conille, fourth from right, poses for photos with members of the transitional council after his swearing-in ceremony as prime minister in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 3, 2024.Odelyn Joseph/AP

He’s also hoping the arrival of a thousand Kenyan security forces will bolster Haiti’s beleaguered police force.

To learn more about the situation on the ground in Haiti, The World’s host Marco Werman spoke with Widlore Mérancourt, editor-in-chief at AyiboPost, who joined from the capital Port-au-Prince.

Marco Werman: Widlore, Haitians have been waiting a long time for a new government. Has this new slate of cabinet ministers given people much optimism? 
Widlore Mérancourt: Haiti finally has a new government led by Mr. Garry Conille. He’s a figure that has a lot of support inside of the country. Many people trust him and respect him. He’s someone with a long career, and not just in state positions, but also because he’s someone who has a long career in international institutions, and people trust him with the people that he’s selected to become ministers in this new government. 
New Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille, left, speaks to the president of the council Edgard Leblanc Fils during his swearing-in ceremony in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 3, 2024.Odelyn Joseph/AP
Garry Conille, the new prime minister, has been at the helm for just two weeks. Last weekend, he was hospitalized. How shaky has this start been for him as prime minister? 
That’s one indication of how the public trusts him. According to sources close to him, he suffered respiratory issues. When this was announced, you could see people overwhelmingly saying positive things about him and wishing him well across the board all over the internet and on radio stations. He also changed the tone of the government. He published things about his health condition. He promised transparency. It’s a stark contrast to how things were conducted in the past government. 
So, the prime minister has been transparent about his respiratory issues and has now been discharged from the hospital. In recent weeks, Widlore, Haiti’s main international airport, has reopened. It sounds, though, like the country’s main seaport remains a security problem. How would you describe the security situation at the port and just generally at the moment in the capital? 
Well, the situation in the country is still extremely concerning. A couple of days ago, multiple police officers were killed by the gang led by Jimmy Chérizier, a former police officer and probably the most powerful gang leader in Haiti. It’s a reminder of how dire the situation is. You talked about the port that is struggling, you talked about the airport. It has some sort of security because the US is intervening there. You have US planes coming in and out to help build the base where the Kenyans will stay. But overall, you have lots of kidnappings going on. You have the gangs continuing their attacks against the civil population. So, people are waiting for this force. They are waiting also for the Haitian National Police to be strengthened so they can tackle the severe insecurity crisis.  
Security guards stand guard as Haiti’s Prime Minister Garry Conille leaves after attending the inauguration of the nation’s new cabinet in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2024.Odelyn Joseph/AP
What about these Kenyan security forces? I know a Kenyan delegation was recently in Haiti to discuss the deployment but serious discussions, as you know, have been going on for months. When are these troops set to arrive? 
We are receiving conflicting reports. They were supposed to be here in mid-June, but now it seems to be pushed maybe by the end of June. There are things that have yet to be resolved, including rules of engagement that have yet to be public. We also have challenges from the judicial system in Kenya, which will go to this force, and all these things are ongoing. There is goodwill on both sides from Kenya, but also from the new administration in Haiti. But, this goodwill is plagued by administrative, judicial and logistical issues. 
Is it clear whether the current government in Haiti and the security forces, whether the Kenyan troops are there or not, do they have a real strategy, a workable plan, to put these well-armed criminal gangs out of business? 
It is clear that the Haitian National Police, but also the small army that we have, is inadequate and outgunned. So, over the past years, hundreds of police officers were killed, hundreds of others abandoned the force and hundreds of others took advantage of the humanitarian parole program that Joe Biden, the US president, gave Haitians opportunities to take pardon. So, you have fewer police officers today. You have a police force that is demoralized by the many members who were killed, and it’s unclear if the new government is going to change strategy. 
And for that exact reason, it’s really uncertain that Kenyan forces alone will solve the crime and violence. So, I’m curious to know, Widlore, what signs you’ll be looking for that might indicate Haiti is turning a corner and finally seeing more calm and stability? 
Well, this new government, I think people regard it as a chance for the country to turn around and take the path of more stability. I think the signals that the prime minister is sending are being received by many corners of this country as positive ones. But what we all know speeches and promises are not enough when it comes to tackling the issues of of Haitians. And so far, [there’s] lots of hope on the shoulders of this new government, but we have to wait and see.

Parts of the interview have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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