Former rebel Guy Philippe calls for ‘revolution’ to oust Haiti’s Henry

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The crises here are getting worse. Armed groups have driven more than 300,000 from their homes. The police are overwhelmed and overwhelmed. Half of the people don’t have enough to eat.

This Caribbean nation of 11 million has no democratically elected officials. The National Assembly is vacant. The presidency is vacant.

That leaves Ariel Henry, the unselected and chief much damaged, above. Appointed by President Jovenel Moïse days before Moïse’s assassination remains unsolved in 2021, Henry was due to leave office on Wednesday, but has so far successfully stalled a political transition .

Amidst this peak of instability, Haiti faces a new challenge: Guy Phillippe.

The charismatic rebel leader, who in 2004 led the revolution that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the country for good, is now joining calls for Henry’s ouster. Freed last year from a US prison, he won the allegiance of an armed group in the Ministry of Environment, which last month called for “civil disobedience” across the country and appeared in the capital Tuesday. along with demonstrators calling for the prime minister to resign.

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Henry has dismissed the head of the Brigade for the Security of Protected Areas, a close friend of Philippe, and ordered agents to disarm. A BSAP representative in northern Haiti called the prime minister “a rat that is going to die. “

“We tell the police and the army that we have no problem with them,” said Jean Pierre Fritzner said in a video posted last week on social media. “If they set themselves against us, however, the onus is on them for what happens.”

“Anything can happen,” Pierre Espérance, director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, told the Washington Post. “The situation can become more chaotic, with more violence, more attacks, more death.”

Philippe, a former police chief of the northern city of Cap-Haïtien who was elected to the Haitian Senate, was arrested in January 2017 and extradited to the United States to face corruption charges federal.

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Philippe pleaded guilty in June 2017 to money laundering conspiracy. He admitted that he took bribes to protect Colombian cocaine from being sent through Haiti to Miami. He was sentenced to nine years in federal prison.

In Haiti, he is accused of carrying out deadly attacks on police stations in 2004 and 2016.

Philippe was released from federal prison in Georgia in September and returned to Haiti in November.

The Haitians did not really expect his announcement,” said Diego Da Rin, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, and it landed “like a bomb.”

Luis G. Romero, a former US diplomat in Haiti, said he was “just completely devastated” by the decision to return him.

“I’m sure there were legal issues, so maybe there weren’t legal options,” he said. “But I don’t know how people didn’t think outside the box and understand how How devastating it would be to return to Haiti, especially this time.”

In the weeks since Philippe’s arrival, he has traveled around the country to drum up support for a “revolution,” urging Haitians to follow the example of activists in Sri Lanka, who stormed the palace. president in 2022 and forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. He has railed against Western imperialism and pledged to end gang violence within 90 days. (He declined to explain how.)

“The situation [in Haiti] it’s awesome,” said Romero, “and I think Guy Philippe is a wild card that could wear everything. “

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Philippe is not the only one who wants to ouster Henry. Prominent leaders including a former prime minister and a former general called for three days of protest this week to push for him to retire.

In several communities, demonstrations closed government buildings, businesses and schools. Police have used tear gas to disperse protests, and there were reports of looting and burning of government buildings.

Henry had not yet been sworn in when Moïse was killed in July 2021. But after the assassination, the Central Group, an informal bloc of envoys from countries including the United States, supported him to lead the country .

Henry backed the so-called December 21, 2022 agreement, which called for elections in 2023 and a new government to take over on February 7.

Haiti has not been safe for elections. However, opposition leaders said Henry had to leave by that date, which was important given the 1986 deadline. Haitians pushed out the Duvalier dictatorship and, in 1991, swore in Aristide, their first democratically elected president. It is fixed in the constitution as the date for the transfer of presidential power.

Gangs, armed mostly with weapons traded from the United States, killed more than 4,700 people in 2023, the UN office here said last month, up 119 percent from 2022. ‘ more than 1,600 police officers left the Haitian National Police last year, a decline in the UN Office called “scary.”

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The UN Security Council has backed a Kenyan-led police mission to restore order. But that plan hit a halt last month when the Supreme Court of Kenya ruled such a practice unconstitutional. The Kenyan government has said it will appeal.

The question now, Da Rin said, is whether Philippe’s call for a “revolution” can go beyond his traditional support. In the past, elites have taken advantage of rising social unrest to fund demonstrations of instability, but many now under sanctions.

A business leader in northern Haiti said Philippe had contacted several people in the private sector for funding. The director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, said that those who spoke to Phillippe for the first time will see “a real opponent for Ariel Henry”.

Roberto Álvarez, the foreign minister of the neighboring Dominican Republic, warned the UN Security Council last month about “new political movements [in Haiti] who are putting themselves forward as Messiah.”

These people, he said, “work fairly, and are as destructive and unstable as the gangs.” These divisions have gone so far as to call for revolution and civil disobedience, exacerbating the political dimension of the Haitian crisis.”

Particularly worrying, analysts said, is the rise of the BSAP and the alliance of some representatives with Philippe.

He was sentenced to one year in prison. He was kept more than nine.

The brigade, which is part of the National Protected Areas Agency, was created to protect environmentally sensitive areas such as sand quarries and forests. But his armed agents have been accused of acting outside their mandate and abusing human rights.

In 2022, the Ministry of the Environment canceled the badges of BSAP agents after the Haitian news outlets reported several examples of “misconduct” by agents.

Moïse put the loyalist Jeantal Joseph in charge of the brigade and tried to turn it into his private military force. There is history here of leaders who have their own paramilitary forces.

The BSAP, Espérance said, “is essentially an organization.”

Last month, Henry fired Joseph and banned BSAP agents from carrying weapons in public.

BSAP leaders say only an elected president can issue these orders. At least five agents died in clashes with police during demonstrations this week.

Myslain Fageasse, BSAP leader in the south, dismissed the discussion about disarming the BSAP as a “rumor.”

Joseph told the Post that he was challenging his dismissal in court. He said the Haitian people were on his side in a fight to “liberate the country.”

He drew a historical comparison.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t leave power, this crowd will get in.” [his residence] and accept it as it happened during the presidency of Vilbrun Guillaume Sam,” said Joseph. A mob killed Sam in 1915 and paraded his butchered body through the streets.

That incident prompted US President Woodrow Wilson to send in the Marines.

The United States invaded Haiti, imposed martial law, installed a friendly president, took control of key institutions and occupied the country for 19 years, protecting American interests and killing hundreds of thousands of Haitians but observing very little development.

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