GONAIVES, HAITI- In the northwestern city of Gonaives, Prime Minister Ariel Henry fled following a shootout between his security forces and armed men who forewarned him not to enter the city.
Winter Etienne, leader of The Revolutionaries group in Raboteau, an area in Gonaïves, had warned Henry not to come to the city for Independence Day because of Henry’s alleged involvement in President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.
As Henry and others walked out of a cathedral after attending a mass to celebrate Haiti’s independence from France, they heard gunfire that forced them to duck and find shelter. One person died and two were injured.
A video circulating on social media shows Henry and other officials running. Police officers are seen firing back.
A spokesperson for Haiti’s National Police said on Monday that the area had been secured.
Henry’s fragile interim regime is suffering a fresh blow as it struggles with deepening poverty and gang violence as it designs a coalition to help run the country following the assassination of Jovenel Mose on July 7. General elections are expected in mid-2022.
Henry thanked the bishop of Gonaives for holding the mass despite the tense situation prevailing in the city in a tweet about the incident.
Saint-Charles-de-Boromé, the city’s cathedral, was mostly empty during the traditional Independence Day celebrations in Gonaives. The gunfire forced Henry out of the city before he could deliver his speech as planned.
Amidst threats of violent protests, former President Jovenel Moise skipped his visit to Gonaives in 2020 and delivered his last Independence Day speech at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince after being warned not to go to Gonaives.
In 1804 Gonaives celebrated Haiti’s first celebration of independence from France. It’s therefore known as Haiti’s City of Independence.
Henry tweeted Sunday in Haitian Creole, “Today, our enemies, the enemies of the Haitian people, are the terrorists who do not hesitate to use violence to kill people with all their might, or to kidnap, take away their freedom, to rape them. And do everything for money.”
In a recent announcement, Henry promised to crack down on kidnapping gangs that authorities blamed for a spike in kidnappings and for blocking gas distribution terminals which triggered a severe fuel shortage and prompted the United States and Canada to urge their citizens to leave Haiti.