Escalating violence: Haiti’s government declares a state of emergency

Violence is escalating in Haiti. Several street gangs have joined forces and are demanding the overthrow of the government.

In view of the escalating situation in Haiti following an attack by armed gangs on the national prison in the capital Port-au-Prince, the government has declared a state of emergency for at least three days.

The government announced late on Sunday evening (local time) that this applies to the entire West Department, to which the state capital belongs, and can be extended. In addition, a curfew will be imposed until Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. “in order to bring the situation back under control.”

The government took the step “in view of the attacks by armed gangs on the country’s two largest penitentiaries, which have resulted in deaths and injuries among police and prison staff, the escape of dangerous prisoners and the devastation of these institutions.”

Armed gangs attacked the national prison on Saturday, apparently enabling hundreds of prisoners to escape. The government said police officers were unable to stop the bandits from freeing a large number of prisoners held on charges including “kidnapping, murder and other crimes.”

Attack on prison: several deaths

The information in the media about those who escaped varied – from hundreds to almost all of the almost 3,700 prisoners. According to official information, several people were injured in the attack on Saturday and there were also said to be deaths. The number of victims was not mentioned. There was also another attack on a prison east of the capital in Croix-des-Bouquets. It was not stated whether prisoners were able to escape there.

3,696 people are said to have been imprisoned in the national prison in the capital, as the Miami Herald newspaper reported, citing the local UN office. The government statement did not give a figure as to how many of them fled. The general coordinator of the Lawyers’ Collective for the Defense of Human Rights (Caddho) in Haiti, Arnel Remy, reported fewer than 100 inmates remaining and posted images on social media of devastated cells with doors open. His information could not be verified.

Criminals prepared attack with drones

According to the Miami Herald report, the criminals prepared their attack using drones to monitor the prison guards’ movements and determine the best time to attack. The national police will make every effort to pursue the escaped prisoners and arrest those responsible for these criminal acts and their accomplices so that “public order can be restored,” the government said.

The Dominican Republic, which is located on the island of Hispaniola east of Haiti, will increase its border staff militarily, the newspaper “Listín Diario” quoted the general director of Cesfront as saying. This special corps of the Ministry of Defense of the Dominican Republic is responsible for controlling and protecting the national border between the two states.

Gang violence plunges Haiti into chaos

Gang violence in the crisis-ridden Caribbean state of Haiti has recently escalated again after interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry was in Kenya for discussions about an international police operation. After months of negotiations and a legal tug-of-war, representatives of both countries signed a corresponding agreement on Friday. The Kenyan government wants to send 1,000 police officers to the poor Caribbean country. During the head of government’s absence, criminal gangs in parts of Haiti’s capital paralyzed public life with gun violence. Shots were fired at the international airport, among other places. According to government reports, several police officers were killed.

According to the Miami Herald, several gang leaders were imprisoned in the national prison, which was completely overcrowded. In addition, Colombian citizens who are considered suspects in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse are also housed there – and are said not to have fled. The Colombian Foreign Ministry therefore called on the Haitian government to protect its citizens and relocate them to a safer location.

Assassination of the ex-president destabilized Haiti

Moïse was killed with twelve shots in his residence on the night of July 7, 2021. According to the investigation, around 20 Colombian mercenaries carried out the crime on behalf of several masterminds. According to the US justice system, the conspirators’ original plan was to kidnap Moïse and replace him as head of state. The background to the crime has still not been clarified beyond doubt.

Since the assassination of the president and Henry taking over the reins of government, the security situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically. According to UN estimates, brutal gangs control around 80 percent of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and are increasingly expanding their area of influence to other parts of the country. The violence is exacerbating the precarious supply situation – according to the United Nations, almost half of Haiti’s eleven million residents suffer from acute hunger. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on Friday at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) for more support for an international mission to help Haiti in the fight against gang violence.

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