The gang Haiti have long been financed by powerful politicians and their allies, and many of them feel they are losing control of the armed groups that they are getting stronger and that they have displaced thousands of people from their homes while waging territorial struggles, killing civilians and raiding food stores.
Escalating gang violence could escalate and also threaten to complicate political efforts for the nation to recover from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse committed a few days ago. The Haitian government is disorganized: there is no Parliament, no president, there is a dispute over who is the prime minister and its police force is weak. However, the gangs seem to be more organized and stronger than ever.
Although the violence has been concentrated in the capital Port-au-Prince, it has affected life throughout Haiti, crippling the fragile economy, closing schools, overwhelming the police and disrupting efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The country is transformed into a vast desert in which wild animals engulf us, ” said the Haitian Conference of Religious in a recently issued statement denouncing the rise in violent crime. “We are refugees and exiles in our own country.”
A man sells fuel on the street due to the shortage of this product, in Port-au-Prince (Haiti). Photo EFE
The gangs have recently stolen thousands of sacks of sugar, rice and flour, in addition to looting and burning houses in the capital. This has caused thousands of people seek refuge in churches, fields and in a gym, where the government and international donors struggle to feed them and find them long-term accommodation.
Among the displaced are disabled people who were forced to flee last month when gangs set fire to a camp where they had settled after being injured in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
“I was running for my life in the field on these crutches,” said Obas Woylky, 44, who lost a leg in the quake. “The bullets were flying from different directions… The only thing I could see was the fire in the houses. ”
Woylky was one of more than 350 people crammed into a school turned makeshift shelter, where almost no one wore masks to protect themselves from diseases, in particular COVID-19.
The experts noted that violence is at its worst in nearly two decades, since before the creation of a second UN peacekeeping mission in 2004.
Programs aimed at reducing gang activity and a flood of aid after the earthquake helped reduce some of the problem, but once the money ran out and the aid programs ended, gangs resorted to kidnapping and extortion businesses and neighborhoods they controlled.
The Haitian national flag flies at half mast at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo EFE
Gangs are partly financed by powerful politicians, a practice recently denounced even by one of its alleged beneficiaries: Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer who leads a well-known gang coalition like G9 Family and Allies.
Currently, the epicenter of gang violence is Martissant, a community in the south of Port-au-Prince whose main highway connects the capital with southern Haiti. Drivers’ fear of being caught in a crossfire or worse has almost completely paralyzed business connections between the two regions, driving up prices, delaying the transportation of food and fuel, and forcing international organizations to cancel programs that included distributing cash to more than 30,000 people, according to a July 1 report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The agency reported that more than a million people need help and immediate humanitarian protection.
Port-au-Prince, ravaged by gangs. AP Photo
And the economy in general doesn’t help. The UN said that the price of a basic basket increased 13% in May compared to February, and that foreign direct investment fell more than 70% from 2018 to 2020, decreasing from $ 105 million to $ 30 million. That is reflected in fewer jobs and greater poverty in a nation where 60% of the population earn less than $ 2 a day and 25% less than a dollar a day.
Many also fear that gangs may disrupt elections scheduled in September and November, which are crucial to restoring the functioning of the legislative and executive branches, which are now largely dying after Moïse’s assassination.