Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage

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By Creative Media News

You cannot see the limits in Port-au-Prince, but you must know where they are. It may depend on your life. Competing gangs are splitting up the Haitian capital, kidnapping, raping, and killing at will. They use blood to mark their territory. If you enter the territory of another gang, you may not return.

Residents have a mental map that divides this densely populated metropolis into green, yellow, and red zones. Green indicates the absence of gangs, yellow may be safe today but lethal tomorrow, and red is a no-go zone. As heavily armed gangs strengthen their grip, the green space is dwindling.

Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage
Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage

According to Haitian human rights organizations, at least 60 percent of the capital and its environs are controlled and terrorized by armed groups. They ring the city and regulate access roads. And according to the United Nations, between January and June of this year, nearly a thousand people were murdered by gangs.

Port-au-Prince is located between the Caribbean’s verdant hills and azure oceans. It is covered with heat and disrepair. In other areas, the garbage is up to the knees; it is a stinking symbol of a failing state. There is no head of state (the previous one was assassinated in office), there is no working parliament (gangs dominate the territory surrounding it), and the US-backed prime minister, Ariel Henry, is unelected and extremely unpopular.

Brutal gangs
Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage

In practice, the state is absent, while the populace faces overlapping problems. Nearly half of the population, or 4,7 million Haitians, are experiencing severe hunger. According to the United Nations, approximately 20,000 people are facing famine-like circumstances in the capital. This is unprecedented in the Americas. Cholera has made a lethal return. However, armed gangs constitute the greatest threat.

They adjusted the time here. Morning rush hour, between 6:00 and 09:00, is the peak time for kidnapping. On their way to work, numerous individuals are abducted. Others are targeted between 15:00 and 18:00 during the evening rush hour.

Because it is too unsafe for them to go home, roughly fifty members of our hotel’s employees dwell in the. Few residents venture out after dark. According to the manager, he never leaves the building.

Abduction is a growing industry. According to the United Nations, there were 1,107 documented cases between January and October of this year. For some gangs, this is a key source of cash. Ransoms can range from $200 and $1 million. If the ransom is paid, the majority of victims are returned alive, but they are made to suffer.

Gedeon Jean of Haiti’s Centre for Analysis and Research on Human Rights states, “Men are beaten and burned with things like melted plastic.” “Women and girls are victims of group rape. This circumstance motivates relatives to locate funds to pay the ransom. Sometimes, kidnappers telephone the victim’s family so they may hear the rape taking place.”

The dawn in Delmas

We travel by armored vehicle. This is normally reserved for frontlines in war zones such as Ukraine, but it is required in Port-au-Prince to deter kidnappers. It is a protection that few individuals can afford. It is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and is prone to natural and political disasters.

Kidnappers are members of rival gangs, which are mostly organized into two huge coalitions: G9 and G-Pep.

In late November, as we drive to an early morning appointment in the middle-class suburb of Delmas 83, we see a crime scene. Bullet shells litter the ground, glinting in the sunlight, as a man lies face down in a pool of blood in a back alley.

One side of a grey 4×4 pickup vehicle has been riddled with holes after colliding with a wall. A nearby AK-47 is lying on the ground. The truck is surrounded by heavily armed cops, some with faces concealed and weapons drawn. The route is crowded with onlookers. They do not ask for inquiries if they have any. When living in the shadow of gangs, it is better to remain silent.

Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage
Haitian gangs hold the capital hostage

The police say they engaged in a gunfight with a bunch of kidnappers who were out early in search of their next victim. The gang escaped on foot, leaving behind a trail of blood. The alleged kidnapper was pursued to the alley and executed there.

“There was a fight between a police officer and the criminals. One of them passed away “A 27-year police veteran who did not wish to be identified said the following:

According to him, the situation in the capital has never been direr. I inquired as to whether the gangs were unstoppable. “We halted them. Today, “He responds.

The same morning, across town, a 42-year-old businessman named Francois Sinclair heard gunfire as he was stuck in traffic. He requested his driver to make a U-turn after observing armed men blocking the two cars in front of him. However, as they attempted to escape, they were discovered.

“Out of nowhere, I was shot in my car, and there was blood everywhere,” he says, seated on a stretcher in a trauma center run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“I could have been shot in the head, and there were others in the car,” he claims. His arm is bandaged where a bullet went clean through.

I inquire whether he has ever considered fleeing the country to escape the violence. “A thousand times,” he responds. “I couldn’t even call my mother to tell her what happened, as she is aging. Given the current state of affairs, it is best to depart if possible.”

This is a common theme, but the majority of Haitians have nowhere to go.

The MSF hospital’s wards are packed with gunshot victims, many of whom were struck by stray gunfire. Claudette, who has a recently bandaged stump for her left leg, informs me that she will never be able to marry due to her disability. Lianne, age 15, is lying close and completing a crossword problem to pass the time. She was struck in the abdomen.

“My mother and I went out for food,” she explains. “During the ordering process, I felt something. I dropped and yelled in anguish at that point. I did not anticipate surviving. I typically hear gunfire farther away from my residence. That day, they drove closer together.”

Even the last president of Haiti was not safe in his own home. In July 2021, gunmen assassinated Jovenel Moise. Approximately twenty Colombian mercenaries were captured after being identified as suspects by police. However, after more than a year, no one has been tried for firing the trigger or ordering the murder. According to human rights activists, four judges have left the case. It is now in the possession of the fifth.

The assassination of the president created a power void that gangs are fighting to fill with the assistance of their allies.

According to experts, armed organizations have ties to corrupt political elites in both the government and the opposition. They provide the gangs with guns, finances, and political cover. In exchange, gangs generate fear, support, or instability as necessary.

Rich businesspeople have ties to gangs as well

“There have always been ties between politicians and certain gangs, primarily in disadvantaged areas with large electorates. But after the 2011 election, these connections have become institutionalized “James Boyard, a security specialist and international relations professor at the State University of Haiti, explains. Gangs are deployed as subcontractors to generate political bloodshed.

More than half of the country’s armed groups, according to rights activists, are located in the capital.

If a gang member is captured, a phone call from their supporters can result in their immediate release with their weapons. According to human rights campaigners, there is an abundance of crime but no punishment.

According to Marie Rosy Augustin Ducena of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defence Network, there are no prosecutions (RNDDH). “Judges dislike working on these matters. They are remunerated by the gangs. In addition, some police act as a support system for the gangs by providing them with armored vehicles and tear gas.”

Jean, a human rights campaigner, asserts that other police officers are gang members. “We know that every gang contains at least two current or former police officers. We are aware that vehicles bearing police license plates are utilized in kidnappings. We do not know if the police as an institution are engaged.”

Some current and former police officers are members of a group known as Baz Pilate. It controls a portion of the major thoroughfare in downtown Port-au-Prince, according to rights activists.

Police corruption is not mysterious. Officers can make as low as $300 per month, and some reside in neighborhoods controlled by gangs. It may be a matter of survival, not choice, for them.

A husband’s account

What is occurring here, around two hours by air from Miami, transcends mere bloodshed. It’s as if the gangs of Port-au-Prince are competing to see who can be the most violent, and anyone in this city of approximately one million inhabitants could become a victim.

A skinny man in his 30s with no gang affiliations describes what he and his wife went through a few months ago. His neighborhood is ruled by a gang, whose rivals recently went on a murderous rampage. For his safety, we will not identify the location or the engaged armed group.

When he first begins speaking, he continues for 13 minutes without pausing, as if he cannot contain his words or his agony.

“I persuaded myself that the gunfire is too close and that we should attempt to flee,” he says. “However, they were already invading the area. I re-entered the residence with my wife. I was so terrified I was trembling. I was at a loss for what to do. They primarily target young men. My wife concealed me beneath the bed and covered me with a mountain of clothing. My nephew was found lurking in the closet.”

As soon as they entered, they assaulted his wife and demanded information about local gang members. When his nephew attempted to flee, they fatally shot him. The husband continued to live in hiding and torment.

“I desired to flee. I felt like crying. When I was hiding under the bed, I was blind, but I could still hear my wife being raped by those men. She was being raped, and I was unable to intervene because I was hiding beneath the bed.”

Following the burning of their home, he and his wife escaped in separate directions. They are currently living apart, staying with friends and family, but he hopes they may reunite with his young child and establish a house.

What occurred “is a wound that damages body and soul.” His wife is now pregnant, and they do not know whether he or one of the attackers is the father. He claims he will accept the child and give it his name regardless of the outcome.

He states, “What I underwent was nothing.” “There is a woman who only had one child. They severed his neck in front of her. The youth who did not belong to a gang.”

Husbands and wives have been stripped of nearly everything, including their patriotism. He states, “Haiti is eradicated from our hearts.” We will depart at any opportunity.

At this, he collapses, his chest heaving as he sobs.

I have been a foreign journalist for more than three decades and have reported from over eighty countries. The testimonials I have gathered here are among the worst I have ever heard. Moreover, it appears as though we have barely scratched the surface.

The gangs of Port-au-Prince have no boundaries

In just a few days, I met three gang rape victims, the youngest of whom was only 16 years old. She and a relative were both raped by the same assailants, who later threatened to torch them alive in their home. The other pregnant woman was six months along when she was attacked. While she was being attacked, her husband was being brought away to die. She had been unable to find his body for months.

Increasingly, gangs are employing rape as a weapon. They target women and girls who reside in regions controlled by their competitors. In July, the enormous Cité Soleil in Haiti’s poorest sector witnessed a territorial battle. More than 300 people were murdered, with most of the remains being burned, and at least 50 women and girls were gang-raped, according to activists.

The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) of Haiti, which documented the rapes in Cite Soleil, asserts that many survivors “regret being alive.” Twenty of them had their children raped in front of them. Six women witnessed the murder of their spouses before being gang-raped.

The most prominent gang federation in Port-au-Prince, the G9 family, and their associates dominate the majority of Cité Soleil. It allegedly had deep ties to the deceased president and his ruling party, and its specialty is extortion, according to local sources.

In September, G9 blocked the city’s primary petroleum terminal, paralyzing the country for nearly two months and precipitating a humanitarian crisis.

Its leader is a former police officer with the moniker “Barbecue” named Jimmy Cherizier, who occasionally holds press conferences. Through intermediaries, we requested an interview but received no response. Because he has lately been sanctioned by the UN Security Council for allegedly endangering the peace and stability of Haiti, he may be less communicative today.

Recently, the United States and Canada sanctioned two Haitian lawmakers, including the current president of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, for working with gangs.

According to sources, the penalties are having some effect because politicians who use gangs now wish to remain in the shadows.

Criminals have seized a nation as a captive

When Jean Simson Desanclos approached the desolate street at the edge of a gang-infested neighborhood, he discovered nothing of his family other than the charred remains of their Black Suzuki. His wife and two daughters’ burnt remains had already been transported to the mortuary.

Josette Fils Desanclos, age 56, was escorting one of her daughters, Sarhadjie, age 24, to college and the other, Sherwood Sonrdje, to go birthday shopping. She would soon turn 29. Like their father, each girl had studied law. They were “princesses” of his.

He states, “On August 20, I lost everything.” “And it wasn’t just my immediate family. On that day, eight persons were killed. It was a slaughter.”

Mr. Desanclos believes his wife and girls fought a kidnapping attempt and were shot by the 400 Mawazo, a violent gang that was extending its territory. He says, “I point my finger at them.” The murders occurred on the outskirts of Croix des Bouquet, which was already under the hands of the gang.

Mr. Desanclos, who speaks gently and dresses impeccably, is a lawyer and human rights, campaigner. He is now a desolate man, yearning for the voices he will never again hear.

“You are constantly anticipating a phone call from your child informing you of “Dad this” or “Dad that.” In this challenging country, I lost the love of my life and the two children we raised together. It is as if you were a multimillionaire and are now impoverished.”

Despite the danger to himself, he seeks justice for his wife and children. “Family is a holy institution. To not seek justice would be to betray them “He claims. “My daughters are aware that their father is a fighter who never abandons anyone, let alone his own family. The risk is tremendous, but what else can I lose at this point?”

He wants the world to realize one thing about modern-day Haiti: that gangs are unchecked.

He states, “Criminals have taken a nation hostage.” “They establish their laws. They murder. They commit rapes. They demolish. I would like my girls to be the final victims, the final young women to be sacrificed.”

He speaks with poise and passion, yet he is aware that his request may not be granted.

In Haiti, gangs rather than the state are responsible for maintaining order. Due to the control of armed organizations in the area, Prime Minister Ariel Henry cannot even reach his own office. We requested an interview with him on multiple occasions, but these requests were denied.

Haiti’s government, such as it is, has issued an international “distress call” for assistance in restoring order.

There is discussion inside the United Nations about the necessity for a non-UN armed force, but no one appears eager to head it or even participate.

Foreign interventions have a negative reputation and a poor track record in the United States. The last United Nations deployment is noted for claims of sexual abuse and the introduction of cholera to Haiti by Nepalese forces. The outbreak claimed around 10,000 lives.

There are differing opinions on the topic of foreign troops on the ground. There is support from businesspeople who have utilized armed organizations in the past but now wish to rein them in, as well as individuals imprisoned in gang-controlled areas. There is criticism from civil society leaders who argue that Haiti must act independently.

While the world community argues and dissents, gangs continue to commit massacres as normal.

According to local sources, armed groups are expanding their area violently because elections are late. When politicians enter gang-controlled areas seeking votes, they must bribe the gunmen.

The most recent atrocity occurred on November 30 at the northern entrance to Port-au-Prince. According to local media accounts, authorities were alerted to the presence of armed men attempting to establish a footing in the region.

The gunman replied at night by killing at least eleven individuals. Several of the bodies were set on fire.

Here, the boundaries are being redrawn in blood once more. Residents of the city must revise their mental maps, as yet another section is shifting from green to red.

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