Haiti’s Descent into Chaos Deepens as Gangs Strengthen Control

Haiti’s Descent into Chaos Deepens as Gangs Strengthen Control

Over the weekend, the violence in the capital Port-au-Prince ramped up once again. Heavily armed gangs attacked the National Palace and set part of the Interior Ministry on fire with petrol bombs.

It comes after a sustained attack on the international airport, which remains closed to all flights – including one carrying Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

He tried to fly back to Haiti from the United States last week, but his plane was refused permission to land. He was then turned away from the neighbouring Dominican Republic too.

Mr Henry is now stuck in Puerto Rico, unable to set foot in the nation he ostensibly leads.

Among those who did manage to get into the stricken Caribbean nation, though, was a group of US military personnel.

Following a request from the US State Department, the Pentagon confirmed it had carried out an operation to, as it put it, “augment the security” of the US embassy in Port-au-Prince and airlift all non-essential staff to safety.

Soon after, the German ambassador and some EU diplomats followed suit, fleeing a nation mired in violence and facing its biggest humanitarian crisis since the 2010 earthquake.

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Millions of Haitians, however, simply don’t have that luxury. They’re trapped, no matter how bad things get.

The situation is dire at the State University of Haiti Hospital, known as the general hospital, in downtown Port-au-Prince. There is no sign of any medical staff at all.

A dead body, covered by a sheet and swarming with flies, lies in a bed next to patients waiting in vain for treatment.

Despite the overpowering stench, no-one has come to remove the body. It is rapidly decomposing in the Caribbean heat.

“There are no doctors, they all fled last week,” said Philippe a patient who didn’t want to give his real name.

“We can’t go outside. We hear the explosions and gunfire. So, we must have courage and stay here, we can’t go anywhere.”

With no prime minister and a government in disarray, the gangs’ power over the capital is near absolute.

They control more than 80% of Port-au-Prince and the country’s most notorious gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has again told the prime minister to resign.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t step down and the international community continues to support him,” he said last week, “they will lead us directly to a civil war which will end in genocide.”

Meanwhile, the police, outnumbered and demoralised, are struggling to keep looters at bay. The Salomon police station in Port-au-Prince was attacked and burnt out, and charred police vehicles lie outside the still-smouldering building.

Nevertheless, even in the face of the total collapse of law and order, people must still venture out to make a living.

At a nearby market, several street hawkers told the BBC they had no other option but to leave their homes, even with gunmen roaming the streets.

“I have three kids, and I’m all they have – I’m their mother and their father,” said Jocelyn, a market trader who also didn’t want to give her real name.

“So, I’m obliged to take to the streets. Yesterday gunmen came here and stole all our money. A lot of vendors lost all their money. But there’s no way to stay at home when you have three mouths to feed.”

“The anxiety is killing me when I’m in the street,” echoed an older woman selling fruit. “I keep thinking what if I get shot dead? Who will take care of my children then? I have no family to support me.”

To the west, in one of Haiti’s nearest neighbours, Jamaica, the dignitaries, diplomats and heads of state of the Caricom regional group are gathering for an emergency summit. BBC

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