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Haiti’s Nightmare: Gangs on the Verge of Taking Over Haiti After Massive Jailbreak

HomeTop NewsHaiti's Nightmare: Gangs on the Verge of Taking Over Haiti After Massive...

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — This beleaguered Caribbean nation faced a deepening crisis on Monday after armed gangs staged a brazen attack over the weekend, storming two major prisons and allowing around 3,700 inmates to escape in a mass jailbreak that left at least 12 people dead.

The shocking security breach in the capital of Port-au-Prince threatened to unleash a fresh wave of chaos and lawlessness across Haiti, which has been gripped by escalating gang violence for years. As smoke billowed from burning tires set aflame on the streets, it served as an ominous sign of the anarchy that could ensue.

The Haitian government moved swiftly to impose a state of emergency and instituted a strict night curfew in the aftermath of the prison raids, which officials described as “acts of disobedience” aimed at destabilizing the interim leadership. In a nationally televised address, authorities urged citizens to remain indoors while security forces worked to quell the unrest and recapture the escaped convicts.

But the jailbreaks appeared to be a coordinated strategy by the powerful criminal groups that have steadily tightened their grip over nearly every facet of daily life in Port-au-Prince in recent years. Together, the gangs are estimated to control a staggering 80 percent of the capital city.

Their demands were explicit: force the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and fill the power vacuum that Haiti has endured since the still unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. In a brazen show of defiance, one notorious gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, declared that all of the armed factions were now united in their mission to oust the interim prime minister.

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“The capital and provincial towns stood together on this one,” Chérizier, a former police officer, said in a televised statement. “We launched this movement against Ariel Henry to force him to resign.”

A Spiraling Crisis With No Clear Solution

The unfolding crisis laid bare the staggering security breakdown in Haiti, two years after the still murky circumstances surrounding President Moïse’s assassination plunged the impoverished nation into political disarray. Elections have not been held since 2016, leaving a void of leadership.

Haiti had turned to the international community, specifically the United Nations, to assist in quelling the gang violence and establish a multinational security force to help stabilize the situation. Kenyan troops had been viewed as a potential vanguard.

But the prison attacks over the weekend made clear that the gangs have only grown more powerful and emboldened as they sensed a window of opportunity to exploit the vacuum of authority. Haitian police forces were quickly overwhelmed, unable to repel the coordinated assaults.

In shocking scenes on Sunday, reporters at the main penitentiary in Port-au-Prince found the prison doors flung open and bodies of at least 10 inmates sprawled across the compound grounds, some bearing bullet wounds from the chaos. Red Cross volunteers said they tried to extract as many as 100 prisoners who chose to remain behind in their cells, fearing they would be caught in the crossfire outside the walls.

Conspicuously, a group of former Colombian soldiers who had been jailed in connection with the assassination of President Moïse were among those who opted not to flee, sources said.

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The United States was forced to urge all American citizens to immediately evacuate Haiti in light of the deteriorating circumstances and the near-total collapse of civil security. France followed suit by shuttering visa services.

“Engage in travel out of Haiti by air or sea as soon as possible while that option remains available,” the U.S. State Department advisory bluntly cautioned.

A Crumbling Nation Adrift

While the prison uprisings were a stunning manifestation of Haiti’s unraveling rule of law, the seeds of the country’s descent into bedlam had been sown long before.

For years, the impoverished Caribbean nation had been scorned as a failed narco-state, where heavily armed gangs trafficked in drugs, kidnappings and massacres while going virtually unchallenged by a feeble police force. Aid groups described the dire conditions in Haiti as nothing short of an acute humanitarian emergency.

The assassination of President Moïse was a shock that compounded the turmoil, as the motive and conspirators behind the brazen attack on his private residence remained shrouded in mystery. Elections meant to restore democratic leadership were repeatedly postponed.

In recent months, widespread civilian protests had demanded the resignation of the incumbent Prime Minister Henry, who had originally agreed to cede power by February 7 under the framework of a political agreement. But he reversed course on those plans, stoking outrage among a populace subjected to an ever-worsening quality of life as the gangs grew more merciless.

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Claude Joseph, who briefly took over as acting prime minister after Moïse’s killing, described the scenario facing Haiti as a “nightmare” and accused Henry of clinging to power amid the unrest.

“He agreed to step down on February 7th,” Joseph told the BBC this week. “Now he decides to stay, despite the fact that there are huge protests throughout the country asking him to step down.”

Clashes Escalate as Pressure Mounts

By Monday, tensions showed no signs of easing in Port-au-Prince. Prime Minister Henry had cut short an overseas trip, where he had been attempting to discuss solutions with international partners, and returned to Haiti to confront the escalating showdown.

News footage captured plumes of black smoke enveloping the downtown area, as protestors burned tires and debris spilled into the streets amid cat-and-mouse confrontations with police. The curfew forced businesses to shutter as life ground to a halt in the capital once again.

Analysts warned that any attempt to deploy a foreign security force would likely be met with stiff resistance from the well-armed criminal factions and deteriorate into urban warfare amid the lawlessness.

The international community raced to condemn the eruption of mayhem in Haiti and issue calls for calm. But a clear path to restoring order remained elusive in the face of such formidable gang opposition.

As night fell in Port-au-Prince, the only certainty seemed to be the promise of more volatility in a teetering nation abandoned by the authority of a functional government.

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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