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Hundreds of prisoners flee after gang assault on Haiti prison

Photo: Odelyn Joseph Associated Press Women hide during a clash between police and gangs in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. In coordinated attacks, four police officers were killed in the Haitian capital when gunmen opened fire on targets including Haiti's international airport.

Evens Sanon – Associated Press and Pierre-Richard Luxama – Associated Press in Port-au-Prince

March 3, 2024

  • Americas

At least three people were killed and hundreds of inmates escaped from Haiti's main prison after armed gangs stormed the facility overnight.

The escape marks a new peak in Haiti's spiral of violence and comes as gangs assert greater control over the capital. Embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry is abroad trying to secure support for a UN-backed security force to stabilize the country.

On Sunday morning, the bodies of three people with gunshot wounds were seen lying on the ground at the wide-open entrance to the prison, with no guards in sight.

The police, in a single police car parked outside the establishment, did not want to say what had happened.

Arnel Remy, a human rights lawyer who runs a non-profit organization working in prisons, told the social network behind bars.

Among those who chose to stay are 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of having worked as mercenaries during the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. On Saturday evening, amid the unrest, several Colombians shared a video urgently pleading for their lives.

“Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the 30-second video message widely shared on social media. “They massacre people indiscriminately inside the cells. »

During the chaos, the police also appealed for help.

“They need help,” a union representing Haitian police said in a social media post bearing an “SOS” emoji repeated eight times. “Let’s mobilize the army and the police to prevent bandits from breaking into the prison. »

Overwhelmed police officers

The armed clashes follow a series of violent protests that have been brewing for some time, but have become more deadly in recent days when Mr. Henry, the prime minister, visited in Kenya to save a proposed security mission in Haiti which would be led by this East African country. Mr. Henry took office as Prime Minister after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse and repeatedly postponed plans for parliamentary and presidential elections, which have not taken place for nearly a decade.

In coordinated gang attacks, four police officers were killed in the capital on Thursday when gunmen opened fire on targets including Haiti's international airport. Gang members also took over two police stations, prompting civilians to flee in fear and forcing businesses and schools to close.

Due to the violence at the airport, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it was temporarily suspending all official travel to Haiti.

The Haitian National Police has approximately 9,000 officers to ensure the safety of more than 11 million people, according to the UN. Agents are regularly outmatched and at a disadvantage when facing powerful gangs, which are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as “Barbecue” and now the head of a gang federation, has claimed responsibility for the increase in attacks. He said the goal was to capture the Haitian police chief and government ministers and prevent the return of Ariel Henry.

The prime minister, a neurosurgeon, ignored calls for his resignation and made no comment when asked if he thought it was safe for him to return home.

He signed reciprocal agreements with Kenyan President William Ruto on Friday to try to save the plan to deploy Kenyan police in Haiti. Kenya's High Court ruled in January that the proposed deployment was unconstitutional, in part because the initial deal lacked reciprocal agreements between the two countries.

Violence has complicated efforts to stabilize Haiti and pave the way for elections. Caribbean leaders said Wednesday that Ariel Henry had agreed to schedule a vote by mid-2025 – a distant date likely to infuriate the prime minister's opponents.

With Joshua Goodman, in Miami, and Danica Coto, in San Juan (Puerto Rico)

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116