Surging gang violence in Haiti is tearng the country apart

Surging gang violence in Haiti is tearng the country apart

Port-au-Prince (CNN)— Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, continues to seem beautiful from above, with white-washed residences on high green hills around a sparkling sea. But walking on its crumbling streets demands risk-reward analysis.

Brutal gangs prey on the inhabitants, divide communities into warring criminal fiefdoms, and isolate Haiti's international port.

Gangs publish torture footage on social media in this city to spread misery and speed up ransom payments for thousands of kidnapped victims. Within hours after arrival at Toussaint L'Ouverture airport last month, a CNN team received forwarded messages from sources sharing the latest horrible images of a tied lady wriggling away from flames as her kidnappers jeered.

It showed Haiti's contagious everyday suffering, where civilian protests show the populace has reached a breaking point. According to UN estimates, gangs control 80% of the capital and are battling for the rest.

Since last week, Port-au-Prince has seen a wave of coordinated gang attacks, with armed gangs destroying police stations and liberating inmates in a direct challenge to Haiti's unpopular Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Haiti declared a state of emergency on Sunday after hundreds of convicts fled its largest prison.

“We chose to control our fate. Our fight won't just overthrow Ariel's administration. In a message to local media, Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a former police officer who considers himself a Robin Hood figure in his zone, claimed the war will revolutionize the system.

Henry's whereabouts remain unknown after visiting Kenya last week.

Each year has been worse than the last, and each disaster has weakened Haiti. Haiti's National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince remains in ruins after the 2010 earthquake. Several local courthouses are now overtaken by gangs.

Many Haitians criticize their prime minister for swiftly loosing territory to the gangs over the past three years while refusing to hold elections to install a new administration and start again. Henry and his friends claim that existing insecurity would prevent a free and fair vote, but this does not quell public indignation.

Frustrated locals in one Port-au-Prince area toppled a bus and burned tires earlier this month to demand Henry's removal after hearing reports that a local police station might be shuttered.

"Ariel Henry must go," one demonstrator cried. Living in utter precarity. We live on garbage and sewage. I am empty. I can't work, support my family, or send my kids to school."

Even some gang members find the present savagery intolerable.

“I see people dying in front of me every day,” a 14-year-old Martissant gang recruit told CNN last month, obviously upset. “The thing I hate most is when (other gang members) kill someone and make me burn the body,” he added.

He says that a gang member acquaintance was slain and burnt a few days earlier. “Don't let that happen to me.” CNN won't name the teen for safety reasons.

“People believe the country cannot continue like this. In a news briefing in New York Wednesday, UN deputy special envoy in Haiti Ulrika Richardson warned of brutal violence.

On TikTok and WhatsApp, profiles with firearms and luxury automobiles claim association with the 5 Segond gang, 400 Mawozo (infamous for kidnapping over a dozen foreign missionaries in 2021), and Kraze Barye, whose leader has an FBI bounty of over $2 million.

Haiti's gangs were formerly thuggish tools for politicians and corporate leaders. The gangs overrunning Port-au-Prince have become autonomous “violent entrepreneurs,” according to a recent Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime research.

According to UN estimates, gangs kidnapped at least 2,490 people off the street last year to trade in a fast-growing abduction business in an impoverished nation with nothing to exploit.

Indiscriminate shooting, arson, and other atrocities have murdered thousands of victims, including those whose families cannot pay for their release. The UN reports that Haiti's homicide rate increased last year to 41 per 100,000, one of the worst in the world.

Haiti's National Police, which has a new muscular anti-gang squad, has arrested several criminals and stopped gang development in crucial places, notably near to the US embassy. Sources believe the army lacks the weapons and training to restore peace to the country due to around 100 developing gangs in the urban region.

The UN reports 1,663 Haitian police officers departing in 2023.

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