Haiti Gangs Embrace Political and Police Chaos

By Hanan Redwan Published on January 31, 2023
Haiti Gangs Embrace Political and Police Chaos

Haiti's Acting Prime Minister landed in the capital after a foreign trip to be greeted by police rioting, diminishing political credibility, ever-stronger gangs, and no promise of the international military aid he has pleaded for.

With 14 police officers killed since the start of the year, armed demonstrators, believed to be policemen, some in uniform and wearing balaclavas, stormed the prime minister's residence on January 26. According to the newspaper Haiti Libre, they smashed car windshields, destroyed surveillance cameras, and shot into the air.

On the same day, a separate group of protestors tore through the capital Port-au-Prince, blocking roads and setting tires on fire. They eventually made their way to the city's main airport, where Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry was returning from international travel. The mob briefly prevented Henry from leaving before security forces were able to extract him, according to the Miami Herald.

The violence has not only targeted Haitian officials. The Bahamas' charge d'affaires and his team were  stopped by Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d'Haiti - PNH) officers during the January 26 protests and had their weapons and vehicles seized. The Bahamian Prime Minister promptly order the departure of all diplomatic personnel from Haiti.

While the mob did not claim affiliation to a specific group, similar tactics have been used by a heavily armed contingent of active and former police known as ,Fantom 509 with media outlets claiming the group was responsible. Fantom 509 first appeared in 2020 and has been  accused of wide-ranging acts of violence, including looting and burning homes, killing members of the public, and even  attacking the visiting national soccer team of Belize. The government has labeled them a "terrorist group" and has fired or arrested officers associated with the group.

The 14 police officers slain this year bring the total of officers killed to 78 since Henry took office in July 2021,  according to a report from Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains - RNDDH).

Six police officers were  murdered on January 25, the day before the protests, by members of the Gran Grif gang during an attack on a police station in Liancourt, a municipality in the central department of Artibonite, the PNH  Confirmed  on social media.

Less than a week earlier, members of the  Kraze Barye group, led by a well-known gang leader named Vitelhomme Innocent, engaged in a shootout with PNH officers in Métivier, a neighborhood in the south of Port-au-Prince. Three officers were  Killed in that exchange, one later succumbed to injuries, and one disappeared. Two other gunfights earlier in the month left four other officers dead.

Vitelhomme's men went on to  burn down a police station in Pétion-Ville, a neighborhood south of Port-au-Prince, on January 29. The station had been abandoned for several days.

At the same time, numerous officers have gone on strike to protest dangerous working conditions and a perceived lack of support from the government, according to the Miami Herald.

Haiti's last elected senators ended their term in office on January 11. This leaves the country without a ,single elected official a decline in democratic governance that has worsened steadily since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. The Senate  Should have 30 members, with 119 lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies. None of these remain in office, a former Haitian interior minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to InSight Crime.

Yet even before this situation, the Haitian political elite has come under severe scrutiny, being part of the problem. Links between Haiti's political elite and organized crime caused the United States, Canada, and the United Nations to impose a  slew of sanctions against current and former Haitian politicians for corruption, drug trafficking, financing gangs, and money laundering.

Henry has fired any member of his cabinet targeted by the sanctions, but this has not brought him much relief. He has himself been under investigation for alleged connections to the murder of President Moïse in July 2021.

Business elites have faced similar scrutiny. According to an Investigation by the New Republic magazine, Haiti's richest person, Gilbert Bigio, is accused of financing gang operations. Bigio owns a private port just north of Port-au-Prince, where local media has  speculated that gangs have been able to import some of the heavy weapons they are battering the PNH with. In December, Canada sanctioned Bigio and two others for "protecting and enabling" armed criminal gangs.

Hanan Redwan

Hanan Redwan

0 Comment

No comment found. Be the first one to add comment on this article.

Leave a Comment