Residents flee as Haitian gangs launch new gun and arson attacks in capital

Estimated read time 4 min read

Gunmen have launched a string of fresh attacks in Port-au-Prince, burning homes and exchanging gunfire with police for hours in one of the biggest outbreaks of violence since Haiti’s new prime minister was announced.

The attacks, which forced hundreds to flee their homes, began late on Wednesday in neighborhoods including Solino and Delmas 18, 20 and 24, south-west of the main international airport, which has remained closed for nearly two months.

“The gangs started burning everything in sight,” said a man called Néne, who declined to give his last name out of fear. “I was hiding in a corner all night.”

He and a friend were carrying a dusty red suitcase between them that was stuffed with clothes – the only things they could save. The clothes belonged to Néne’s children, whom he had rushed out of Delmas 18 around dawn during a pause in the fighting.

Neighborhoods that once bustled with traffic and pedestrians were like ghost towns shortly after sunrise, with a heavy silence blanketing the area except for the occasional bleating from a lone goat.

An armored police truck patrolled the streets, rolling past charred vehicles and cinderblock walls where someone had scrawled “Viv Babecue”, a reference to one of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders, Jimmy Chérizier.

People whose homes were spared in the attack in Delmas 18 and other nearby communities clutched fans, stoves, mattresses and plastic bags filled with clothes as they fled by foot, motorcycle or on colorful small buses known as tap-taps. Others were walking empty-handed, having lost everything.

“There were gunshots left and right,” said Paul Pierre, 47, who was walking with his partner in search of shelter after their house was burned down. They couldn’t save any of their belongings.

He said the overnight fighting separated children from their parents and husbands from their wives as people fled in terror: “Everyone is just trying to save themselves.”

Martineda, a woman who declined to give her last name out of fear, said she was left homeless after armed gunmen torched her home. She fled with her four-year-old, who she said tried to run away when the gunfire erupted late on Wednesday.

“I told him, ‘Don’t be scared. This is life in Haiti,’” she said as she balanced a heavy load of goods on her head including butter that she hoped to sell to make some money and find a new home.

Asked to recount what had happened overnight, she said: “Gunfire, gunfire, gunfire everywhere! No one slept. Everyone was running.”

The attack occurred in an area controlled by Chérizier, a former elite police officer who is leader of a powerful gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies.

He and other gang leaders have been blamed for coordinated attacks that began on 29 February across the capital. Gunmen have burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

The attacks eventually forced Ariel Henry to resign as prime minister and led to the creation of a transitional presidential council whose majority unexpectedly announced a new prime minister on Tuesday: Fritz Bélizaire, a former sports minister. The move is threatening to fracture the nine-member council, which was sworn in last week.

As new leaders take charge of the country amid squabbling, Haitians are demanding that they prioritize their safety as gangs remain more powerful and better armed than Haiti’s national police.

More than 2,500 people have been killed or injured from January to March of this year, a more than 50% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the UN.

At least 90,000 people have fled Port-au-Prince in just one month as gangs that control an estimated 80% of the capital have increasingly been targeting previously peaceful neighborhoods.

Ernest Aubrey recalled how he moved to Delmas 18 a decade ago. Now he’s leaving home for the first time.

“It’s too much. We can’t resist any more,” he said of the gangs. “They are taking everything we own.”


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