Monday, April 15, 2024

Haiti in Chaos: 4,000 Escape Prison, State of Emergency Imposed

HomeU.S.Haiti in Chaos: 4,000 Escape Prison, State of Emergency Imposed

The Haitian government has declared a 72-hour state of emergency after heavily armed gangs stormed a major prison in the capital Port-au-Prince over the weekend. At least 12 people were killed and around 4,000 inmates escaped during the dramatic jailbreak.

Powerful Haitian gang leaders have said the brazen attack was intended to force the resignation of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is currently out of the country. Henry travelled to Nairobi last week to negotiate the deployment of a Kenyan-led multinational security force aimed at quelling the rampant gang violence paralyzing Haiti.

The gangs now control around 80% of Port-au-Prince, having steadily expanded their territory over the past two years. According to the United Nations, more than 8,400 Haitians fell victim to gang violence in 2022, including killings, injuries and kidnappings. This represents over double the number seen just a year earlier, highlighting the rapid deterioration of security since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

The state of emergency was announced on Sunday night after coordinated attacks by criminal groups stormed the Croix des Bouquets prison near the capital and a larger penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince. Among the escaped inmates were prominent gang members detained in connection with Moise’s murder, striking a major blow to efforts to prosecute those responsible.

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Jimmy Chérizier, a former police officer known as “Barbecue” who leads an alliance of the capital’s main gangs, had declared “all-out war” last Thursday when word of the proposed Kenyan security mission emerged. The dramatic prison breaks represented an escalation of efforts to undermine Prime Minister Henry and create chaos, with gang leaders explicitly demanding Henry’s resignation.

The attacks began Saturday evening when armed groups invaded the Croix des Bouquets prison, freeing over 1,000 inmates. They then moved on to the capital’s main penitentiary, where gunfire prevented police from responding as prisoners fled onto the streets. At least three inmates attempting to escape were shot dead in the courtyard.

A volunteer prison worker told reporters that 99 prisoners chose to remain locked in their cells, including former Colombian soldiers arrested for their alleged role in President Moise’s assassination last year. With police officers nowhere to be found on Sunday, the doors to the penitentiary remained open as over 4,000 inmates roamed free.

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The brazen jailbreaks prompted the government to institute an immediate nighttime curfew in Port-au-Prince to curb the mayhem. Henry’s office released a statement Sunday night saying the “acts of disobedience” by criminal groups threatened national security and justified the state of emergency.

The latest violence comes amid a political crisis whereby Henry has remained as interim prime minister well beyond the February 7th deadline to step down under a transitional accord. Planned elections have not taken place since 2016, leaving Haiti without a permanent president or parliament.

Critics have accused Henry of seeking to cling to power and delay elections. His trip to Kenya last Thursday to negotiate the deployment of foreign troops without parliamentary approval fed accusations of authoritarian rule. Gang leaders likely sought to capitalize on the political chaos by demonstrating their power on the streets.

The dramatic attacks represent a major setback for law and order in Haiti’s capital, which has been plagued by frequent kidnappings and killings as gangs battle for territory. With police overwhelmed and struggling to maintain control of even central areas, citizens live in fear of being caught up in the uncontrolled violence.

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Human rights groups have warned that gang rule amounts to a humanitarian crisis, with residents unable to safely access food, water, medical care or fuel. Thousands have fled their homes to escape extortion and threats by criminal groups. The ability of gangs to storm a maximum security prison with impunity has only heightened concerns.

As Henry remains in Nairobi soliciting foreign military support, the coming days will prove crucial in determining whether any semblance of governmental authority can be upheld. Unless the interim government can reestablish control of key infrastructure and arrest the prison escapees, the nation risks devolving into further instability and fragmentation.

With over 8,400 Haitians falling victim to gang violence last year alone, the costs of continued lawlessness grow direr by the day. Humanitarian groups are urging foreign partners to intervene before the crisis claims more lives and the country slips deeper into the control of merciless criminal enterprises. But any international security mission will face major challenges in confronting gang power that has grown stronger than the state itself.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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