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Haiti’s Main Port Closes As Gang Violence Spirals

Well-armed gangs launched coordinated attacks last week, targeting key infrastructure facilities such as the airport and police stations, and breaking open prisons, as they demand that leader Ariel Henry resign.


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Police officers control the perimeter of the police station set on fire the previous day by armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 6, 2024.(Photo by clarens SIFFROY / AFP)

 

Haiti’s main port was forced to close Thursday due to sabotage after days of worsening gang violence that have plunged the country into chaos and left the prime minister unable to return from abroad.

Well-armed gangs launched coordinated attacks last week, targeting key infrastructure facilities such as the airport and police stations, and breaking open prisons, as they demand that leader Ariel Henry resign.

Caribbean Port Services, the sole operator of the port in Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince, cited “malicious acts of sabotage and vandalism” as it announced the decision to suspend all services.

The Haiti government on Thursday extended a state of emergency by one month, covering the west of the country, which includes the capital city — but gangs control large swathes of residential areas.

The UN’s humanitarian office warned that the health system was “nearing collapse,” with many facilities closing or reducing services and a shortage of medicine and staff.

It called for an end to violence to allow aid to enter the country, and reported a lack of “blood, beds and staff to treat patients with gunshot wounds.”

Gangs again targeted police late Wednesday by setting fire to a headquarters in Bas-Peu-de-Chose, a neighborhood in the capital. Officers escaped before the attack, which also destroyed several police vehicles, according to Haiti’s police union Synapoha.

 No elections, no president

The criminal groups went on the offensive last week while Prime Minister Henry traveled abroad, beginning with an assault on two prisons that allowed the majority of inmates to escape.

Synapoha said that 10 police stations have been destroyed, and at least 15,000 people are estimated to have fled the worst-hit parts of Port-au-Prince.

The UN Security Council met in New York on Wednesday to discuss the “critical” situation, while the United States has called on Prime Minister Henry to take steps to resolve the crisis.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, an influential gang leader in Haiti, has warned of civil war and mass bloodshed unless Henry resigns.

As well as the state of emergency, the capital is under a nighttime curfew to try to foster peace, but the gangs are often better armed than the security forces.

In power since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, Henry was due to leave office in February but instead agreed to a power-sharing deal with the opposition until new elections are held.

When the latest unrest broke out, Henry was in Kenya to negotiate a UN-backed multinational police mission to stabilize his country.

He has not commented on the surge in unrest and was last confirmed to be in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk said Wednesday the violence was “beyond untenable” with 1,193 people killed countrywide this year by gangs.

The United States urged Henry to enable a political transition and hold fair elections, but added it was not calling on him to resign — a key demand of Haiti’s gangs.

Haiti, the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation, has been in turmoil for years, and Moise’s assassination plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

AFP