Haitian society in apparent freefall as gangs force thousands to flee

Gangs throughout the Haitian capital and beyond have grown more powerful since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021.

A year after the unsolved murder, scores of people have tried to flee a country that appears to be in economic and social collapse. Attempts to form a coalition government have failed, while efforts to hold general elections have stalled.

Kidnappings soared and increasingly violent turf wars shut down major roads leading to the northern and southern regions of the country.

Police have also been trying to quell recent gang violence in the capital’s Cité du Soleil slum, where the UN says more than 470 people have been killed, injured or gone missing in the space of a week. Another 3,000 people are estimated to have been forced to flee their homes in this neighborhood.

“We need a lot of help”

“We need a lot of help,” said Jean Michelet, a 16-year-old who said he was injured the day the gang fighting broke out in early July.

“I was at home the day the war started. There was a lot of shooting. A bullet went through the roof and hit me in the head,” he said.

He said a nun took him to the hospital to have his wound treated.

Michelet said many people were killed in the shootings.

“The situation is really bad,” he said.

Suspected gang members set fire to a courthouse near the Haitian capital on Tuesday morning in the latest incident targeting the country’s crumbling justice system.

Police inspector killed inside church

Roosevelt Zamor, prosecutor for the Croix-des-Bouquets area, told The Associated Press that important documents had been set on fire and that authorities had closed the partially burned courthouse located northeast of Port-au -Prince.

The fire occurred in an area controlled by the 400 Mawozo gang, which the authorities accuse of having killed a police inspector inside a church in Croix-des-Bouquets on Sunday, then of burning down the building.

“The police worked day and night to try to stabilize the community,” Zamor said in a brief interview.

A girl washes clothes at a school turned into a shelter for families forced to leave their homes in Cite Soleil due to clashes between armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday. (Odelyn Joseph/Associated Press)

Video posted to social media showed suspected gang members surrounding the slain police officer as they showed his ID to the camera, then cut off his hands and shot at his body, with the suspected gang leader saying that it was retribution for the officer who allegedly killed motorcyclists. associated with the gang when he threatened to kill another policeman.

The courthouse fire came a month after another gang raided the trial court in downtown Port-au-Prince, looting and burning records and evidence. The gang still retains control of part of this courthouse.

The United Nations has warned that the Haiti National Police needs immediate help to fight crime and violence even as the United States and other countries continue to provide training and resources to help bolster an agency that has just 12,800 active police officers serving a country of more than 11 million people.

Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council, said most of the victims “were not directly involved with gangs” but were targeted by them.

UN agencies said some gangs were even denying access to clean water and food in order to control the population, worsening malnutrition.