PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – A powerful gang leader announced Sunday that he was lifting a blockade on a key fuel terminal that had choked Haiti’s capital for nearly two months.
The announcement by Jimmy Cherizier, a former policeman nicknamed “Barbecue”, followed government claims of at least some success in efforts to reclaim the terminal, as well as a United Nations resolution targeting Cherizier with sanctions. But it remained unclear who actually controlled the terminal and the surrounding area, and there was no evidence that any fuel could have escaped.
In a speech posted on social media, Cherizier urged truck drivers to come and fill their tanks.
“Drivers can come to the terminal without any fear,” he said.
If the fuel can leave, it would ease the crisis that began when Cherizier’s G9 gang federation seized control of the area around a fuel depot in Port-au-Prince on September 12 and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
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 cut critical services and banks and grocery stores to operate on limited schedules.
It also hampered efforts to deal with a cholera outbreak that killed dozens and sickened thousands. Clinics warned that they had run out of fuel and had difficulty accessing drinking water.
Gunfire rang out from the area around the terminal on Thursday as Haiti’s national police scrambled to re-establish control. Police Chief Frantz Elbé said in a voicemail released Friday to The Associated Press: “We’ve won the battle, but it’s not over.”
Official police accounts on social media posted a video without sound on Sunday saying officers were still “busy” at the terminal and “important provisions are being made to secure the perimeter”.
Cherizier stressed that neither the gang nor anyone working on its behalf had negotiated anything with the prime minister, despite claims by some politicians that they had.
“This is a fight for a better life,” he said of the gang’s actions. “The situation has worsened. … We are not responsible for what happened to the country.”
Cherizier then asked if Haitians are satisfied with their living conditions, if they feel safe, if their children can go to school without being kidnapped, and if they have food and medical care.
Many in the country of more than 11 million people live in even greater poverty at a time of double-digit inflation. Meanwhile, kidnappings and gang violence have increased since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.
Spokesmen for the Haitian National Police and the prime minister’s office could not immediately be reached for comment after Cherizier’s announcement.
But some people on social media celebrated Cherizier’s announcement, calling him “father” or “Mr. President.”
In early September, Henry announced that his administration could no longer afford to subsidize oil, leading to a spike in prices that sparked massive protests.
On October 7, almost a month after the blockade began, Henry requested the immediate deployment of foreign troops. The UN Security Council has yet to vote on the request, 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.