By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade
Our next-door neighbor, Haiti, has dealt with gang violence for a long time, but especially after the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse, on July 7, 2021. The turmoil in the Latin American country escalated on January 26, when police officers took the streets of Port-au-Prince by storm, protesting due to the murders conducted by some Haitian gangs which took the lives of some of their colleagues. The week before the protests 11 police officers were killed, 4 of them were killed in a shooting done by a gang called Vitelhomme while the other 7 were assassinated by a gang called Savien. The violence seen in that week may have been the match that struck the fire, but since Jovenel Moïse became responsible for the country gang violence against police officers has averaged 5 police-assassinations per month (Aristil and Isaac, 2023).
The protesters blocked entire streets, lit tires on fire, had short and long-ranged weapons in their hands, weaved their way into the prime minister’s house, and after hearing he was returning to Haiti from Argentina, they took over the airport. All of this happened while Haiti had been receiving representatives from the US embassy. Diplomats from the Bahamian embassy had a direct encounter with the protesters, who took their vehicles and weapons. Then, the Bahamas’ prime minister released a statement saying Bahamian diplomats should exit Haiti as fast as they could (Aristil and Isaac, 2023).
It’s not hard to understand the anger that fueled police officers and armed police officer groups such as the one called Fantom 509, knowing the violence their colleagues have been experiencing, but also the way gangs have humiliated them. In the weeks before the protests, a Haitian gang called Gan Grif, published a video to social media showing the naked and bruised bodies of 6 officers they had killed with their guns resting uselessly at their chests. Another video of the same gang featured gang members smoking cigarettes while standing in front of dismembered body parts of the police they had killed. Amidst the chaos, Haitian authorities cannot control it; they are expecting aid from countries like the United States, to improve their political crisis (CBS, 2023).
You would expect police officers to be the ones persecuting gang members, not the other way around, but gangs in Haiti are not a minor issue, they have become the main characters in Haitian politics. Haitian gangs have control of over 60 percent of the country’s territory and police officers are extremely vulnerable to them. Police officers in Haiti suffer from low morale and have an even lower salary of less than $200 a month. Moreover, a lot of police officers are leaving because of the risk to their lives. Since 2021, more than 3,000 police officers have renounced their charges (Taylor, 2023). Unless the government and the police present a coordinated response to tackle gangs, foreign support is not likely to come and the amount of influence gangs hold is bound to increase.
Aristil, S., & Isaac, H. (2023, January 27). Haiti police block streets, break into airport to protest officer killings. Reuters. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/haiti-protests-flare-after-police-officers-killed-gang-violence-2023-01-26/
CBS News. (2023, January 27). Haitian gangs’ gruesome murders of police spark protests as calls mount for U.S., Canada to intervene. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/haiti-news-airport-protest-ariel-henry-gangs-murder-police/
Taylor, L. (2023, February 2). Haitian cops are poorly paid and outgunned – and part of the problem. The Guardian. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/02/haiti-cops-outgunned-gangs