Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles has resigned. Haitian media reported that Frantz Elbe, the inspector general of the National Police, will replace Charles as chief.
Charles made the announcement hours after a video surfaced on Haitian social media of Wilson Joseph, leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, threatening Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the police chief during what appeared to be an outdoor funeral.
“Ariel Henry, Leon Charles! Guys, don’t forget today, Wednesday, everyone must pay their debts. Those guys brought me to tears. Five soldiers have fallen, but it won’t destroy the army,” Joseph said, apparently referring to five gang members who were shot and killed this week.
Joseph also threatened to kill the 17 missionaries he kidnapped on Saturday if his demands were not met.
“May lightning strike me — if I don’t get what I asked for, you see these Americans, I would rather kill them,” he said.
400 Mawozo, one of Haiti’s most violent gangs, kidnapped 17 missionaries (16 Americans and a Canadian, including children) while they were visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, a town east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The missionaries are affiliated with Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ohio. Their Haitian driver also was kidnapped. The gang is demanding a $1 million ransom for each person.
At the White House, reporters asked Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary, if the administration was aware of the threat.
“We have in the administration been relentlessly focused on this, including sending a team to Haiti from the State Department, working very closely with the FBI, which is the lead in these kinds of matters, in constant communication with the Haitian National Police, the church that the missionaries belong to, as well as the Haitian government. And we will do everything that we can to help resolve the situation,” Jean-Pierre said.
The FBI confirmed to VOA Creole via email on Tuesday that it was involved in a joint operation with Haitian law enforcement to find the missionaries and bring them back safely to the United States. The FBI declined to give further details, citing security concerns.
On Wednesday, the Democratic and Popular Sector opposition group urged the prime minister to remove Charles from his post.
“The current government is incapable, and the Democratic Sector does not recognize it, because these ministers are incapable of getting results,” said Andre Michel, lawyer for the group. “That is why we are giving Ariel Henry until November 1 to change his Cabinet, and we also give him until November 1 to remove Leon Charles as police chief. Leon Charles is incapable of guaranteeing the security of the population.”
Michel stated during a Wednesday press conference in Port-au-Prince that the opposition group was giving the prime minister until November 1 to activate the political accord he signed with several opposition leaders earlier this month.
Before being named police chief by former President Jovenel Moise in November 2020, Charles represented Haiti at the Organization of American States in Washington. He also held the post of charge d’affaires at the Haitian Embassy in Washington.
Charles has been dogged for months by criticism over the police’s failure to curb the rampant violence and uptick in kidnappings.
Anita Powell contributed to this report.