Haitians furious over steep hikes in fuel prices again looted schools and other buildings around the impoverished country on Friday.
The violence reached a UN World Food Program facility where 1,400 tons of supplies were being stored, as angry protesters took to the streets yet again in Port au Prince and elsewhere.
The WFP issued a statement condemning the attack Thursday on its storage facility in the city of Gonaives, saying the food that was stolen was earmarked for school lunches and the poorest families in Haiti.
“This incident is simply unacceptable,” its local director Jean Martin Cauer said, adding that the food was supposed to feed nearly 100,000 school kids for the rest of the year.
The capital endured its fourth straight day of violence as protesters attacked government buildings in anger over the fuel price hikes.
On Thursday they targeted Haitian National Television, a National Archives building as well as various stores and businesses.
The protests were set in motion after Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced Sunday that the cash-strapped government could no longer afford fuel subsidies, and that prices would have to be increased.
As a result, diesel and kerosene prices are expected to almost double, from about 350 to nearly 670 gourdes ($3-5.7).
Armed men broke into a hospital in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince and seized a patient before shooting him dead outside, the non-governmental group Doctors Without Border (MSF) said on Thursday.
The incident took place Sunday at the Raoul Pierre Louis hospital in Carrefour, in the southern suburbs of the Haitian capital, according to the organization.
“In the emergency room supported by Doctors Without Borders, these men armed with handguns seized a patient and coldly executed him outside the hospital,” MSF said in a statement.
No details were known about the identity of the gunmen or the patient. The Haitian National Police did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.
“This is the first time we have recorded such an incident, that armed men burst into one of our centers to perpetrate such an act,” Michel Alexandre, MSF communications head in Haiti, told AFP.
Alexandre called for “respect” for the organization’s missions and staff, adding that if more violent incidents occurred the organization would be forced to temporarily close the facility to “assess the situation.”
Another MSF facility in greater Port-au-Prince recently temporarily shut down after someone was shot nearby.
In June 2021, an MSF hospital was targeted by gunfire in Martissant, an area also on the southern outskirts of Port-au-Prince where rival gangs frequently clash.
Two months later, the organization announced that due to the insecurity, the hospital would shut its doors after 15 years in operation and relocate to downtown Port-au-Prince.
Haiti has been mired in a political crisis stemming from the 2016 election, which was aggravated by the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July 2021.
Gangs operate with widespread impunity and have extended their reach beyond the slums of the Haitian capital, with violence soaring in recent years.
Gang members in Haiti on Friday kidnapped 38 people as they were riding in minibuses out of the capital Port-au-Prince, bound for the south of the country, the head of a drivers’ association told AFP.
“Two buses had just been filled with passengers bound for Miragoane,” a town some 62 miles (100 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince, “when the guys from Village de Dieu seized them,” said Mehu Changeux, president of the association of owners and drivers of Haiti, referring to one of the capital’s slums controlled by a powerful gang.
“Each bus had 18 people, in addition to the drivers,” Changeux said, without saying if ransoms had been demanded.
The mass kidnapping came as Haiti find itself in the grip of armed gangs, whom police have failed to confront.
Since June 1, 2021, Haitian authorities have lost control of the only road connecting Port-au-Prince to the southern half of the country, with a section of some 1.5 miles (two kilometers) under the sway of armed gangs.
It was on this road, at the western exit of the Haitian capital, that the 38 people were abducted. Changeux insisted his organization “always asks drivers not to take this road until the state has restored security.”
But that caution is a luxury that the city’s poorest inhabitants cannot afford, since traveling by the only alternative route, which is not suitable for motor vehicles, costs much more, in particular, because of unofficial tolls.
“There continue to be some buses that take the risk because some passengers do not have the economic means to pay for transport by the mountain road,” said Changeux.
Last weekend, three young Turkish women were released after a month in captivity. They had been kidnapped by the criminal gang that controls the entire region east of Port-au-Prince, up to the border with the Dominican Republic.
This gang, which hijacked the bus in which they were traveling from Santo Domingo, still holds five other Turkish nationals.
In the month of May alone, at least 200 kidnappings were recorded by the UN, overwhelmingly in Port-au-Prince.
Jackson held out for more than a week as gunfire ripped through his poor neighborhood in the Haitian capital, hoping help would come to end the bloody turf war between rival gangs.
“For eight days, the bursts of bullets flew non-stop but we thought that the police were going to intervene,” he said.
But the police never showed. So like thousands of others, 29-year-old Jackson — taking nothing but the clothes he was wearing — fled his home.
The United Nations said Friday that clashes between rival gangs in the downtrodden slums of northern Port-au-Prince have claimed the lives of at least 75 people, including women and children, since all-out war started on April 24.
The world body said it was “deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration of the security situation” in the city.
“According to multiple sources, at least 75 people, including women and children, have been killed and 68 others injured,” the UN statement said.
It added that at least 9,000 residents of the conflict-hit northern suburbs have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge with relatives or in temporary shelters such as churches and schools.
Jackson held out until last Sunday. He was just returning from church when the fighting came right to his door.
“I didn’t know that the members of the ‘400 mawozo’ gang had managed to cross the bridge” next to his home, Jackson said, referring to the most feared of all the gangs.
“Suddenly I heard neighbors yelling ‘They’re at Shada crossroads’, which meant they were 30, 40 meters from me. I had my identity card, my driver’s license, and my insurance card on me. I took my passport and ran out,” he said.
As he passed a nearby gas station, he saw gang members accusing the motorcycle taxi drivers who were parked thereof being lookouts for a rival gang. “So they shot them,” Jackson said.
For decades, armed gangs have run amok in the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, but they have drastically increased their hold across the Haitian capital and the country at-large in recent years, sending murders and kidnappings skyrocketing.
The UN has denounced the “extreme violence” of the gangs, saying local sources recorded “acts of sexual violence, including the gang rape of children as young as 10 years, and the terrorization and intimidation of the local populations living in areas controlled by rival gangs.”
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned of the gangs’ impact on children’s education.
“In Haiti, 500,000 children have lost access to education due to gang-related violence,” it said on Friday. “Nearly 1,700 schools are currently closed in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.”
“No child can go to school while bullets are flying in the air, it’s dangerous and it shouldn’t be like this,” said Bruno Maes, the UNICEF representative to Haiti.
The UN office in Haiti has also expressed concern over children being recruited into the armed gangs.
The Haitian government has not yet commented on the latest outbreak of violence which has placed the capital in a state of siege, preventing any safe exit by road to the rest of the country.
Last October, the powerful “400 Mawozo” gang abducted a group of 17 North American missionaries and their relatives, including five children.
The district where the violence has been centered is highly strategic: it contains the only road access to the country’s north as well as between Haiti’s capital and the Dominican Republic.
Since June, authorities have also lost control of the only road connecting Port-au-Prince to the south. For a stretch of two kilometers (1.2 miles), the highway is completely under the control of armed criminals from the slums of Martissant.
Gangs in Martissant have also forced Doctors Without Borders, an international medical nonprofit, to close a hospital it had been running there for 15 years.
The United Nations expressed concern Wednesday over the recruitment of children by gangs whose violence has plagued, with at least 39 civilians killed in the last two weeks alone.
The UN “is particularly worried about the recruitment of minors within the gangs, one of the six serious violations of the rights of the child,” the Integrated Office of the United Nations in Haiti tweeted.
The armed bands have roved the poorest neighborhoods of the capital for decades, but their hold on the city has increased drastically in recent years.
Last week, a video circulated on Haitian social media showing a masked pre-teen child wielding a high-caliber automatic weapon.
In the clip — taken in Martissant, a poor neighborhood in western Port-au-Prince that has been entirely controlled by gangs since last year — the boy explains he is at war with a rival gang’s leader.
The UN’s denunciation of the criminal groups’ inclusion of children comes as the gangs’ control has continued to spread to the city’s northern and eastern suburbs.
The UN in Haiti “condemns the armed gang violence ongoing since April 24 that is affecting the communities in the north and northeast of Port-au-Prince, which has killed dozens of Haitians and injured and displaced thousands of others,” the organization’s account tweeted.
Human rights organizations have not yet assembled a detailed account of the situation in the areas most severely affected as they have been unable to enter due to the violence.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Haiti’s civil protection authority estimated that — between April 24 and May 2 — at least 39 people have been killed and 68 injured, along with “around 9,000 people (who) have been displaced” from three communities in suburban Port-au-Prince.
“Forty-eight schools, five medical centers and eight markets have been closed because of the situation,” the statement said.
The national police and other government officials have not yet commented on this latest outbreak of violence, which has blocked all safe land routes out of the capital.
The international community pledged $600 million Wednesday to help rebuild Haiti’s devastated south, where an earthquake killed more than 2,200 people six months ago.
“These contributions went well above our expectations,” said Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, after the conclusion of an international summit in Port-au-Prince.
With a total estimated cost of $2 billion over four years to build back the areas hardest hit by the August 14 earthquake, the $600 million figure corresponds to only 30 percent of the necessary funding, but is still higher than the 25 percent that had been expected.
Almost a billion dollars is needed just to rebuild the 130,000 homes that were leveled.
Three out of four schools in the region were also destroyed or severely damaged, contributing to an estimated $400 million cost for the education sector alone.
“These contributions, large and small, demonstrate that the international community is committed to a new approach to working with the Government and the people of this country,” said Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who visited Port-au-Prince for the summit.
In 2010, after a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed the homes of a million and half Haitians, the international aid effort was poorly coordinated and inefficient.
Twelve years later, the city center of Port-au-Prince — including multiple government agency headquarters and the presidential palace — has still not been rebuilt.
Lacking long-term plans for new housing, earthquake victims have also filled entire zones of the capital with makeshift lodgings that are highly susceptible to another natural catastrophe.
While Haiti is still mired in a political crisis following the assassination of its president Jovenal Moise seven months ago, the donors said that the funds will be properly managed to avoid corruption or embezzlement.
The investment fund, organized by the United Nations, “will ensure that donors’ money is disbursed in a responsible, effective and considered manner, to bring the maximum possible transparency and impact in the lives of Haitians,” said Mohammed.
At least two people were killed in a 5.3-magnitude earthquake that shook southwestern Haiti early Monday, officials told AFP, with the tremor followed by several aftershocks.
In Anse-a-Veau, a small coastal town 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of the capital Port-au-Prince, a woman died when a wall collapsed. In Fonds-des-Negres, 20 kilometers further south, the second death was caused by a landslide.
In the Nippes district, where the epicenter of the quake hit, nearly 200 houses were destroyed and around 600 others damaged, according to the local civil protection directorate.
Moise, who was unpopular in Haiti, was killed and his wife was seriously wounded when a commando of around 20 men burst into the presidential residence and shot them in July.
Dozens of suspects had been arrested previously over Moise’s murder, but much about the assassination remains murky, especially who ordered it.
An arrest warrant was issued for Joseph right after the killing, with authorities describing him as “armed and dangerous.” Joseph was an opposition senator and fierce critic of the president.
More than 40 people, including more than a dozen Colombians and some Americans of Haitian origin, have been arrested in connection with the assassination.
The killing deepened an already dramatic crisis in Haiti, which is suffering from a lack of security, soaring gang violence and a spate of kidnappings.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has in effect been running the country since Moise’s death, told AFP this month that he too had been targeted in an assassination attempt, during national day celebrations.
Earlier this month, US authorities charged a retired Colombian soldier in connection with Moise’s killing.
The Justice Department said 43-year-old Mario Palacios, along with others, “participated in a plot to kidnap or kill the Haitian President.”
US prosecutors said the plot against Moise “initially focused on conducting a kidnapping of the president as part of a purported arrest operation,” but it “ultimately resulted in a plot to kill.”
The US Congress on Thursday ordered a probe into Moise’s assassination.
The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to order the State Department to issue a report within 180 days that would provide a “detailed description” of the circumstances surrounding Moise’s killing.
At least 62 people were killed when a gas tanker truck exploded in the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien on Tuesday morning, a local official said, with overwhelmed medics saying the toll was set to rise.
The blast is the latest disaster to hit the poverty-wracked Caribbean nation, riven by gang violence, political paralysis, and acute fuel shortages.
“We have now counted 62 deaths,” Deputy Mayor Patrick Almonor said, adding that authorities were still searching for victims amid the charred debris in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city located on the northern coast.
Almonor earlier described a horrific scene at the blast site, saying he had seen more than 50 people “burned alive” and that it was “impossible to identify them.”
Scores of people were injured, and Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was heading to the scene along with extra doctors and health workers.
According to Almonor, the truck is believed to have flipped over after the driver lost control while swerving to avoid a motorcycle taxi.
Fuel spilled onto the road and pedestrians apparently rushed to collect the tanker’s gas, a precious commodity as Haiti grapples with a severe fuel shortage caused by the tightening grip of criminal gangs on the capital Port-au-Prince.
Almonor said around 40 houses in the area were also set ablaze, but that no details were yet available on possible victim numbers inside the homes.
Nearby Justinien University Hospital was overwhelmed with patients as the injured were transported to the facility.
“We don’t have the ability to treat the number of seriously burned people,” a nurse told AFP.
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to save them all,” she said.
A doctor at the hospital told local radio station Magik9 that two people had died there and that 40 other patients were seriously injured.
“The people are burned on more than 60 percent of their body,” he said.
Prime Minister Henry said in a tweet he would visit the injured and “take this opportunity to express my solidarity with the grieving families.”
He earlier promised field hospitals would be rapidly deployed to help care for the blast victims.
Henry — who has led the country since July after president Jovenel Moise was assassinated in a still-mysterious plot — declared a period of national mourning following the explosion.
National fuel crisis
Haiti has never produced enough electricity to meet the needs of its population. Even in well-off parts of the capital, the state-run Haiti electric utility only provides, at most, a few hours of power a day.
Those who can afford it rely on pricey generators, which are no help in the face of the fuel shortage caused by gangs blocking access to the country’s oil terminals in the capital and its outskirts.
In recent months, more than a dozen vehicles transporting fuel have been attacked by gangs demanding ransoms for the drivers’ release.
Demonstrators took the streets as recently as Monday protesting the rise in gasoline prices.
The lack of fuel is also hitting water access, in a country where many people rely on private companies to deliver water by truck to at-home systems.
And with no guarantee of steady power or water supply, health care providers have been forced to drastically cut back their services.
Chronically-unstable Haiti was also plunged into a new political crisis with the assassination of president Moise.
Four senior Haitian law enforcement officials have been detained and several dozen arrested in connection with the investigation. But five months after the assassination, doubts remain over who ordered the attack.
The leader of a Haitian gang who kidnapped a group of North Americans over the weekend has threatened to execute them, according to a video seen by AFP.
The footage shot Wednesday but released Thursday on social media showed Wilson Joseph, wearing a suit and surrounded by armed men, in front of coffins containing the bodies of five members of his gang.
“Since I’m not getting what I need, I’ll kill these Americans,” Joseph said, speaking in Haitian Creole.
A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity said the video appeared to be genuine.
“As far as I know, the video that appeared online today is legitimate,” the official told reporters late Thursday. “It’s not a fake video as far as we can tell right now.”
“We are in contact with the Christian Aid Missionaries. We are in contact constantly with Haitian National Police. The FBI is on the ground in Haiti and in contact with all the parties involved,” the official added.
The kidnappers are demanding $17 million ransom for the hostages’ freedom, security sources have told AFP.
On Saturday the group of 17 US and Canadian missionaries and their children were kidnapped in broad daylight while on a visit to an orphanage in the heart of an area in eastern Port-au-Prince, which is under control of the gang.
The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, to which the abducted missionaries belong, said the group included 12 adults aged 18-48, along with five children aged eight months, three, six, 13 and 15.
The United States has advised Americans not to travel to Haiti, in particular, due to kidnappings they say regularly include American citizens.
Since December 2020, Haitian police have sought Joseph for crimes including assassination, kidnapping, vehicle theft, and hijacking of cargo trucks.
– Controlled by gangs –
Meanwhile on Thursday motor-taxi drivers blocked roads and snared traffic in the Haitian capital to protest against fuel shortages caused by gangs controlling oil access.
Across the city, demonstrators have voiced outrage over being forced to buy gasoline on the black market.
Gangs’ tightening grip on Port-au-Prince since June has prevented secure access to two of Haiti’s three oil terminals.
Armed groups hijacked more than a dozen tankers at the third, located in the Cite Soleil slum, in early September.
On Thursday, near one barricade of flaming tires, protestors accused authorities of favoring fuel imports over renewable energy.
“We don’t have an electricity grid in Haiti, so we have to look for diesel to run a generator,” said one 30-something student who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.
“We have all the sun in the world but solar panels are overpriced,” he said.
Against the backdrop of growing gang influence, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced late Thursday the appointment of a new police chief, Frantz Elbe, after the resignation of his predecessor Leon Charles.
“It’s time to get to work. We would like public peace to be restored, to return to normal life, and to find the path of democracy. Finally, we would like to organize elections,” said Henry on Twitter.
Kidnappers holding a group of 17 US and Canadian missionaries in Haiti including five children are demanding a ransom of $1 million for each of their hostages, security sources said Tuesday.
The kidnapping by one of Haiti’s brazen criminal gangs has underlined the country’s deepening woes following the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July, with lawlessness mounting in the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation.
A gang known as 400 Mawozo, which for months has controlled the area where the missionaries and members of their families were abducted, wants a total of $17 million, sources told AFP.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel confirmed that the gang was behind the kidnapping of 16 Americans and one Canadian.
He told The Washington Post that kidnappers normally demand huge sums of money which are reduced during negotiations, saying his officials did not take part in the talks.
The missionaries work for US-based Christian Aid Ministries, which said in a statement that the group was abducted east of Port-au-Prince while returning from visiting an orphanage situated between the Haitian capital and the border with the Dominican Republic.
On Sunday the organization said the captive group is made up five men, seven women and five children whose ages it did not disclose.
In April, 10 people including two French clerics were kidnapped and held for 20 days by 400 Mawozo in the same region.
The United States in August issued a red alert on Haiti, urging Americans not to travel to the Caribbean nation because of rampant kidnapping, crime and civil unrest.
On Monday a general strike was called to protest the rapidly disintegrating security situation highlighted by the latest kidnapping.
In Port-au-Prince, shops, schools and government buildings were shuttered but schools were opened in several other towns around the country.
It has not had a sitting parliament for more than a year and a half amid disputes, with the country put under one-man rule by President Jovenel Moise, who was assassinated in July.
Beijing had signaled it would veto a US draft extending the mandate by a year.
China had drafted its own text proposing a six-month extension before Friday’s latest iteration was agreed.
In the end, they agreed on nine months with a provision that the Secretary General would conduct an assessment after six months.
“BINUH” was established in October 2019 following the end of 15 years of UN peacekeeping operations and has been a frequent source of contention between Washington and Beijing.
Its mandate includes strengthening political stability and good governance.
China has frequently said that there should be no external solutions to Haiti’s problems but UN diplomats say it wants to punish Haiti for its recognition of Taiwan.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council accepted that Haiti’s elections will be delayed until the second half of 2022.
The United States, the most influential foreign player in Haiti, had earlier pushed for elections to go ahead this year to restore democratic legitimacy amid a power vacuum.
Haiti’s troubles, including a devastating earthquake, have led tens of thousands to flee, with images of horseback US border guards roughly rounding up Haitians generating outrage in the United States.