PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Prime Minister Ariel Henry condemned gangs and kidnappings in a pre-recorded speech released on Friday in which he also reassured Haitians that the country has no shortage of fuel despite severe shortages that have frustrated millions of people and triggered recent strikes.
This is the first time Henry has acknowledged these issues in a public speech since the Oct. 16 kidnapping of 17 members of a US-based mission group. The 16 Americans, a Canadian and their Haitian driver were kidnapped amid a spike in gang kidnappings that police are struggling to control.
“If they don’t stop their misdeeds, the law will apply to them,” Henry said in his post. “The only option for the bandits and all their godfathers is imprisonment or death if they do not want to change their profession.”
The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang who kidnapped the missionaries, including five children, said he would kill them if his demands were not met. Haitian officials said the gang was seeking $ 1 million per person, but it was not clear whether this included children, the youngest of whom is 8 months old.
Henry did not mention the kidnapping of the missionaries, but denounced the kidnappings in general, saying: “All those who take the Haitian people hostage, terrorize the people, are the enemies of the people.
He also condemned those who help criminals by giving them weapons, ammunition and money, including “all those who deal with them so that they can take power.” They are all enemies of the Haitian people, and we treat them as enemies. “
Henry noted that he had become Prime Minister about three months ago following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and that he had found “a country torn, divided, with a state in tatters whose democratic institutions are dysfunctional.
“The nation lives under the thumb of bandits. Citizens cannot leave the capital to go south. The country’s economic situation is dire. Inflation and the high cost of living keep their hold on national life. The budget deficit has reached an unprecedented level and the gourde (currency) continues to fall sharply against the US dollar.
The Prime Minister spoke days after a widespread strike resulted in the closure of schools, businesses and public transport in the capital Port-au-Prince and beyond to protest the lack of fuel and the deterioration of the situation in the country. Gangs have been accused of blocking gas distribution terminals, with at least one gang leader saying he will lift the blockade if Henry withdraws.
Henry said the ships were waiting to unload fuel and the country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, would not run out of gas. He added that he had created a crisis cell with senior officials from finance, justice, police, public works, commerce and other departments to find a “quick fix” to the distribution problem. fuel.
He said the government had already placed additional fuel orders and police had created a “safe corridor” to the fuel supply center. He said airports, coastguard boats, and some hospitals and phone companies have already received new shipments of fuel, and police escorts are available for truck drivers who fear kidnapping or murder.
He said he would not share more details to guarantee the success of the operation.
The shortages affected hospitals, ambulances, schools, public transport and many other aspects of daily life.
“It’s really catastrophic,” said Solon Clédion, director of a private school in Port-au-Prince, in a telephone interview. “Daily life is difficult. … We wonder how long this will last.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders said its trauma hospital in Tabarre has been forced to limit the number of patients and only treat life-threatening emergencies. The aid group is relying on generators due to ongoing power outages in Haiti.
“Without fuel, we cannot run our hospital,” Dr Kanouté Dialla, director of the hospital, said in a statement. “We are doing our best to maintain our activities by adapting them from day to day, but this situation is unsustainable. “
Henry acknowledged the dire situation, noting that COVID-19 patients who depend on ventilators are among those at risk of dying if fuel is not available. In his speech, he praised a man who he said walked through dangerous communities to transport fuel and oxygen to a hospital and saved the lives of 60 patients.
The prime minister also announced that the office of the judge overseeing the investigation into the president’s assassination had been attacked. He did not provide details, but authorities are looking for those responsible. The previous judge in the case resigned for personal reasons a day after the death of one of his assistants in unclear circumstances.
Henry said he was aware of people’s anger and that his administration was dealing with the country’s multiple problems.
“To all those who have legitimate demands, who have declared that they are fed up with inflation, poverty and insecurity, I guarantee that their voice is heard by the government,” he said. declared. “Gangs are our enemies. No real solution to the country’s problems will emerge if we do not arm ourselves with the courage to fight and eliminate this scourge.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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