Hospitals in Haiti are close to collapse after criminal gangs blockaded a major fuel terminal, demanding $50m (€44m) to allow it to reopen.
Unable to rely on the electrical grid, the country’s hospitals use diesel-powered generators.
The fuel shortage has forced them to shut many wards, turn away patients and suspend the already limited Covid vaccination programme.
Medical staff have cancelled operations rather than risk losing power in the middle of surgery.
It was the latest manifestation of the anarchy prevailing on the poverty-stricken island, which is still reeling from the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July.
The gangs, which control much of the country, have upped the ante, demanding not only the $50m ransom to lift the blockade but also the resignation of Ariel Henry, Haiti’s prime minister.
“Ariel Henry resigns at 8, and at 8.05 the area can be freed so that tank trucks can load fuel,” said Jimmy Cherizier, a former policeman and leader of the G9 coalition of around 30 criminal gangs.
“Ours is a political fight. We are an armed political group.”
Mr Cherizier, known locally as “Barbecue”, has emerged as one of Haiti’s most powerful figures, seeking to redefine himself as a political activist.
He is in a powerful position in a country where the gangs heavily outnumber the army, which has only 500 soldiers, and the 15,000-strong police force.
However, Mr Henry has refused to quit. “Let me be clear: all those who take the Haitian people hostage, who terrorise the population, are the enemies of the people,” he said.
“The country’s hospitals will be in great difficulty if they cannot find fuel to produce electricity to treat the sick,” he added.
“Thieves and murderers must be treated for who they are. Unfortunately, we have found that even some police are in cahoots with gangs...
"The state has lost total authority.”
The G9 gang gave a graphic demonstration of its power last week at the Varreux oil terminal when it forced the country’s interior minister to flee after gangsters became aware that he was visiting the facility.
Last Friday some fuel trucks were able to get away from the depot under police escort as the government sought to establish a “security corridor”.
The blockade is the latest manifestation of the grip the gangs have on the country.
Only two weeks ago, 17 American and Canadian missionaries and their families were kidnapped at gunpoint by the “400 Mawozo” gang, which controls the area
between Port-au-Prince and the border with the Dominican Republic.
The gang is reportedly demanding $17m for their release.
Kidnapping is rife in Haiti, with foreigners frequently targeted.
Last week it emerged that another pastor was freed after a $550,000 ransom was paid.
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