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What is happening in Haiti? Here's what to know.

Criminal gangs more powerful that Haiti's state security forces have attacked prisons and the airport serving the country's capital, forcing businesses and schools to close and driving an estimated 15,000 people from their homes in Port-au-Prince. On March 12, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced that he would resign once a transitional presidential council was created, capitulating to international pressure as his country faced what some experts had already labelled a low-scale civil war.

Henry announced his decision hours after officials, including Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met in Jamaica to discuss a solution to Haiti's spiraling crisis.

The U.N.'s top human rights official had warned days earlier that the situation in Haiti was "beyond untenable," noting that more than 1,190 people had been killed since the start of 2024 alone. But the chaos and bloodshed started long before that in the small, deeply impoverished Caribbean nation, and international efforts to send help have thus far gone nowhere.

Below is a look at major recent developments, and how the country less than 700 miles from U.S. soil descended into chaos.

What's happened recently in Haiti?

The latest episode of major violence flared up on Feb. 29 as Prime Minister Henry flew to Kenya to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force to help fight the gangs.

Heavy gunfire echoed across the capital as prominent gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier announced that his group, G9, was joining forces with other gangs to force Henry to step down.

Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, serving as Haiti's acting prime minister in Henry's absence, declared a state of emergency on March 3 and said officials were imposing an evening curfew to "take appropriate measures in order to regain control of the situation."

On March 5, with Henry still in his role though not in the country, Cherizier warned that if the premier didn't resign and "if the international community continues to support him, we'll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide."

Haiti declares state of emergency amid escalating violence and prison breaks 02:22

"Either Haiti becomes a paradise or a hell for all of us. It's out of the question for a small group of rich people living in big hotels to decide the fate of people living in working-class neighborhoods," Cherizier said, in a possible reference to the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting taking place in New York about his country's fate.

Where is Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry?

Henry has been unable to enter Haiti for weeks because the violence closed its main international airports. He arrived in Puerto Rico in early March after being barred from landing in the Dominican Republic, where officials said he lacked a required flight plan. Dominican officials also closed their country's airspace to flights to and from Haiti.

A U.S. official told the French news agency AFP on March 11 that Henry was welcome to remain in Puerto Rico for the time being. 

Kenya Haiti Armed Force
Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry gives a public lecture at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, March 1, 2024. Andrew Kasuku/AP

Asked in early March if the U.S. government had urged Henry to step down, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said only that the Biden administration had asked him to "move forward on a political process that will lead to the establishment of a presidential transitional council that will lead to elections."

"We think that is urgent — that it's urgent that he moves forward in that direction and starts the process of bringing normalcy back to the people of Haiti," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear who exactly would lead Haiti out of the crisis in his absence, but other Haitian politicians have started forming alliances with the aim of leading the country. 

One new political alliance involves former rebel leader Guy Philippe and ex-presidential candidate and former Sen. Moïse Jean Charles, who has said they signed a deal to form a three-person council to lead Haiti.

How did things get so bad in Haiti?

Government corruption is at the root of Haiti's long-standing instability. The small nation has grappled with violent political unrest for 20 years, but powerful earthquakes in both 2010 and 2021 did nothing to help ease the difficult lives of residents. The 2010 disaster was one of the deadliest earthquakes ever, killing roughly a quarter of a million people and devastating the island's already weak infrastructure.

The latest round of attacks began in late February after Henry pledged to hold long-awaited general elections, but not until mid-2025. He'd been due to step down voluntarily by February but declined to do so, infuriating many Haitians and sparking the gangs' uprising.  

The current crisis can be traced directly back to 2021, however, when then-Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse, who was facing a mounting economic and political crisis as he led the country by decree and without a democratic mandate was assassinated.

Henry was sworn in as prime minister soon after with the backing of the international community, but his authority was never cemented as Haitians continued to grapple with soaring prices and crumbling infrastructure.

Fighting for Haiti | CBS Reports 22:15

The country has failed to hold parliamentary or general elections for years and currently has no elected officials.

Who is Jimmy "Barbeque" Cherizier?

Cherizier is leader of a gang federation known fully as G9 Family and Allies. He used to be an elite police officer before taking up arms against Haitian authorities. 

Cherizier has previously launched massive attacks that have crippled the country.

FILE PHOTO: Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier holds press conference in Port-au-Prince
Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' gang alliance, is flanked by gang members after a press conference in Delmas 6, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 5, 2024. Ralph Tedy Erol / REUTERS

In late 2022, he seized control of an area surrounding a key fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince for almost two months.

How many gangs are there and how powerful are they?

An estimated 200 gangs exist in Haiti, with 23 main ones believed to be operating in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. Until recent years, they controlled some 60% of the capital, but that area has since grown to about 80%, according to U.N. officials.

Smuggled firearms and ransom payments to kidnappers have enabled the gangs to become more financially independent. That's increased their power as the state has weakened, and an underfunded and under-resourced police department has been unable to contain them.

"Present-day gangs enjoy a much higher degree of military capacity than those a decade ago," according to a recent report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime. "This has largely been driven by the gangs' ability to acquire high-caliber weapons."

The organization said the gangs' acquisition of such firearms had "completely transformed the ecosystem of violence in the country." 

A 2023 U.N. report stated that recovered weapons destined for Haitian ports included ".50 caliber sniper rifles, .308 rifles, and even belt-fed machine guns."

Civil unrest and violence continues in Haiti 02:35
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