Updated Mar 21, 2024 - World

What to know about the crisis in Haiti

A motorcyclist passes burning tires during a demonstration

A motorcyclist passes burning tires during a demonstration in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on March 12. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

A long-simmering crisis in Haiti reached a critical point this month after armed gangs attacked government buildings and forced the prime minister to resign.

The big picture: The violence in recent weeks has compounded one of the world's most severe humanitarian crises. Dozens have been killed and 15,000 rendered homeless in the recent wave of gang attacks, AP reported.

Haiti's recent crises: Natural disasters, gang violence and an assassination

Former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021 and was replaced — under controversial circumstances — by Ariel Henry, who had only recently been appointed acting prime minister.

  • After delaying elections several times, Henry faced strong domestic and international pressure to facilitate a transition.

Attacks and violence by gangs in Haiti have surged since 2022 and the number of Haitians facing acute food insecurity has tripled since 2016, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

  • The gangs seized control of large swaths of the capital of Port-au-Prince last summer. In Oct. 2023, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of an international security mission to help quell the violence.

The island country has also been devastated by massive earthquakes and tropical storms.

  • The country has still not fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.

Timeline of the most recent violence

Ahead of Feb. 7 — the day Henry was slated to step down — mass protests break out calling for his removal. He declines, as elections slated for the previous month had once again been delayed.

  • In late Feb., Henry leaves Haiti for a trip to Guyana and then Kenya. While in Guyana, he says leaders have agreed to hold elections in August 2025 — another lengthy delay.
  • On Feb. 29, Haiti's criminal gangs stage coordinated attacks across Port-au-Prince. Over several days, the gangs burn police stations, shut down the country's main airport, storm the two biggest prisons and free thousands of prisoners, per AP.
  • On March 3, Haitian officials declare a state of emergency and impose a nighttime curfew.

Haiti's most powerful gang leader — Jimmy Chérizier, known as "Barbecue" — claims responsibility for several of the attacks on March 5.

  • "If Ariel Henry doesn't resign, if the international community continues to support him, we'll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide," Chérizier told reporters, CBS News reported.

Resignation of the prime minister

As the violence spirals, Henry remains stranded abroad in Puerto Rico, unable to return to Haiti.

  • On March 12, Henry announces he will resign as prime minister in a video message posted to X.
  • "The government that I'm running cannot remain insensitive in front of this situation. There is no sacrifice that is too big for our country," he said, adding that his government would "remove itself" as soon as a transitional presidential council was in place, per AP.
  • Henry did not give a timeframe for the transition and remains prime minister — albeit while still exiled in Puerto Rico, per NBC News.

State of play: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on March 15 that nearly all of the members of the transitional council have been named, though the process was not yet complete, Reuters reported.

The role of the U.S.

The Biden administration welcomed Henry's resignation.

  • White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing on March 15 that the U.S. had long supported "Haitian-led efforts for a peaceful transition of power."
  • The transition will be delicate for Washington, however. Some in Haiti had argued the U.S. was effectively propping up Henry through its efforts to stabilize the country.

The U.S. has encouraged a UN-led operation to restore order in Haiti, without taking the lead in that mission.

  • Kenya and a number of Caribbean countries have offered to deploy security forces to Haiti.

The Biden administration has pledged $58 million of additional humanitarian assistance to Haiti, Jean-Pierre noted.

U.S. citizens in Haiti

Hundreds of Americans in Haiti have recently asked the State Department for assistance in leaving Haiti.

Go deeper: As gang wars tear Haiti apart, stalemate over who should intervene

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional developments.

Go deeper