Haiti cracks down on heavily armed environmental agents after clashes with police

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An armored police car patrols the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 26, 2024. Haiti’s government on Jan. 29 announced a crackdown on a state environmental department whose heavily armed agents were blamed for violent clashes with police last week.

Haiti’s government on Monday announced a crackdown on a state environmental department whose heavily armed agents have grown more powerful in recent months and were blamed for violent clashes with police last week.

The government ordered all workers with the National Agency for Protected Areas to report themselves to the nearest office of the Ministry of the Environment so they can be registered.

Authorities also announced that no armed environmental agents are allowed to circulate within towns or cities, without exceptions, “in order to improve the security climate of the country and to bring peace and tranquility for all Haitians.”

The crackdown comes almost a week after the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced the restructuring of the National Agency for Protected Areas, given what it called “serious problems of institutional dysfunction.”

The head of the agency, Jeantel Joseph, was dismissed as part of the restructuring, prompting armed environmental agents in Haiti’s northern region to protest the decision and demand Henry’s resignation as they exchanged fire with police last week. The agents work for a division known as the Security Brigade for Protected Areas that falls under the national agency.

Joseph and certain brigade members have shown their support for former rebel leader Guy Philippe, who was repatriated to Haiti in November and whose followers have organized several demonstrations against the prime minister. Philippe has said he backs a revolution for the people but that he is not planning a coup and that he supports Haiti’s National Police.

Haiti’s government also ordered all employees with the National Agency for Protected Areas to stay in their assigned regions while a commission charged with overhauling the department works on proposed reforms.

The orders come as demonstrators in northern and southern Haiti organized small protests and blocked major roads on Monday demanding Henry’s resignation, according to local media reports.

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