PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A powerful gang leader announced Sunday he was lifting a blockade at a key fuel terminal that has been strangling Haiti’s capital for nearly two months.
The announcement by Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer nicknamed “Barbecue,” followed government claims of having at least some success in efforts to retake the terminal and a United Nations resolution sanctioning Cherizier. However, it remained unclear who actually controls the terminal and surrounding area, and there was no evidence that fuel could have spilled.
In a speech posted on social media, Cherizier urged truck drivers to come and fill up their tanks.
“Drivers can come to the terminal without fear,” he said.
Allowing fuel to escape would defuse a crisis that began when Cherizier’s G9 gang took control of the area around a fuel depot in Port-au-Prince on September 12 to demand Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation.
The gang’s blockade cut off access to about 10 million gallons of diesel and gasoline and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene, forcing gas stations to close, hospitals to curtail critical services, and banks and grocery stores to curtailed operations.
It also hampered efforts to deal with a cholera outbreak that has killed dozens and sickened thousands. Clinics have warned they are running out of fuel and struggling to access drinking water.
Gunshots echoed from the area around the terminal on Thursday as Haiti’s national police struggled to regain control. Police Chief Frantz Elbé said in a voicemail shared with The Associated Press on Friday, “We’ve won a fight, but it’s not over yet.”
Official police social media accounts released a silent video on Sunday, which said officers at the terminal were still “busy” and said “an important precaution is being taken to secure the perimeter.” .
Cherizier stressed that neither the gang nor anyone working on their behalf negotiated anything with the prime minister, although some politicians have claimed so.
“This is a fight for a better life,” he said of the gang’s actions. “The situation has deteriorated. … We are not responsible for what happened to the country.”
Cherizier then asked if the Haitians were happy with their living conditions, if they felt safe, if their children could go to school without being kidnapped, and if they had food and medical care.
Many in the country of more than 11 million live in even deeper poverty at a time of double-digit inflation. Meanwhile, kidnappings and gang violence have increased following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.
Haitian National Police and Prime Minister’s Office spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment after Cherizier’s announcement.
But some people on social media celebrated Cherizier’s announcement, referring to him as “father” or “Mr. President.”
In early September, Henry announced that his government could no longer afford to subsidize oil, prompting sharp price hikes that sparked major protests.
On October 7, nearly a month into the blockade, Henry called for the immediate deployment of foreign troops. The UN Security Council has yet to vote on the motion, although it voted to impose sanctions on the gang leader himself.
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.
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