Haitian gangs’ gruesome murders of police spark protests as calls mount for U.S., Canada to intervene
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Outraged rebel police officers paralyzed Port-au-Prince on Thursday, speeding through the streets on motorcycles to protest a series of killings of police officers by Haitian gangs. More than a hundred protesters blocked roads, fired guns in the air and breached the gates of the capital’s airport and prime minister’s home, with tensions escalating throughout the day.
Gangs have killed at least 10 officers in the past week; another is missing and another has serious gunshot wounds, according to the Haitian National Police.
Videos circulating on social media – likely taken by gangs – show the naked and bloodied bodies of six men sprawled on the dirt, their guns on their chests. Another video shows two masked men smoking cigarettes from the dead’s dismembered hands and feet.
A man screams past a barricade of burning tires during a police demonstration following a gang attack on a police station, killing six officers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 26, 2023. RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP/Getty
The gang that killed the police officers, known as Gan Grif, still have the bodies, police said.
The spate of gruesome police killings is just the latest example of escalating violence in the Caribbean nation, which has been ravaged by gang warfare and political chaos following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. His unelected successor as Prime Minister, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has asked the United Nations to lead a military intervention, but no country has been willing to take action.
The UN estimates that 60% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by the gangs. On the streets of the capital, Haitians say it’s closer to 100%.
This week, the UN special envoy for Haiti called on the US and Canadian governments to lead an international force to help Haiti fight the gangs.
The US Embassy in Haiti tweeted Thursday afternoon asking for calm, and US Ambassador Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, condemned the gang violence that killed the officers in a message on his own Twitter account, echoing the call to rest and expresses condolences to the families of the officers killed.
We condemn the gang violence that has killed several Haitian National Police officers and call for calm in the face of ongoing protests. We extend our condolences to the families of those killed in the line of duty. 🇬🇧 will continue to impose costs on those responsible for this heinous violence. -BAN
— Brian A Nichols (@WHAAsstSecty) January 26, 2023
He said the US would “continue to impose costs on those responsible for this heinous violence,” but gave no indication of new efforts by the US or its regional partners to address it.
CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk reported that the US and Mexico submitted two resolutions to the United Nations Security Council in October, one to enact an arms embargo that would impose financial costs on Haitian gang leaders and another to create a multinational one Non-UN force under the “use of force” provision of the UN Charter.
To date, there is no agreement on a multinational security force.
“Dozens of women and children as young as 10 were brutally raped to spread fear and disrupt the social fabric of communities controlled by rival gangs,” UN special envoy for Haiti Helen La Lime told security officials advice this week. She said acute hunger affected an estimated five million people in the tiny nation, which has a combined population of just about 11.5 million.
CBS News’ Falk said La Lime stressed that the US and Canada had not refused to send in a joint security force, but that North American nations are treading cautiously when it comes to the details of how such a force might function.
“The United States continues to work to address the humanitarian crisis and insecurity in Haiti and to support Haitian-led efforts to create the political conditions that would result in free and fair elections,” said the U.S. deputy commissioner for special political affairs Affairs, Ambassador Robert Wood, acknowledging that “gang-related violence has reached unprecedented levels, which has only exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis and hampered the ability to address the cholera outbreak, which is disproportionately affecting children and youth are”.
Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, said it was important to remember the history of “all previous military interventions in Haiti,” adding that any new force “must be led by Haitians and Haitian institutions.”
“We cannot wait,” Haiti’s own ambassador to the UN, Antonio Rodrigue, said this week. “The security situation could be getting worse every day, worsening the fate of people who are already suffering terribly.”
US Customs and Border Protection agents have reported an “alarming” surge in boats full of migrants from Haiti and Cuba trying to reach Florida in recent weeks.
Florida sees ‘alarming’ rise in boatloads of migrants from Cuba and Haiti 05:35
Meanwhile, the Haitian police are calling for more resources.
The police deaths have enraged members of Fantom 509, an armed group of current and former police officers who have violently demanded better conditions for police officers.
Dozens of these men marched through Port-au-Prince on Thursday, many wearing hoods along with police uniforms, flak jackets and carrying rifles and automatic weapons. They impounded buses to block roads and set fire to tires across the city, causing smoke to billow down the streets.
Many called for a tougher crackdown on the gangs and for the end of Henry’s government, which many Haitians see as illegitimate. Protesters broke down one of the gates outside Henry’s home and a barrier at Port-au-Prince airport, where he was due to appear later in the day.
Demonstrators break into Toussaint Louverture International Airport to protest the recent killing of six police officers by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 26, 2023. RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP/Getty
“We need a revolution,” shouted a protester wearing a bulletproof vest, helmet and gas mask. “We are on the streets to fight for our brothers and sisters who are victims of bandits. We have to take to the streets every day to get what we want.”
Video captured by local Haitian media shows empty streets and closed shops on a main Port-au-Prince street passed by the rebel group.
In addition to the bodies on display by the gang, a number of officers were killed last week in a firefight with gangs in a neighborhood once thought to be relatively safe.
Since Henry took over the reins of the country, 78 police officers have been killed, according to a report Thursday by Haitian rights group National Network of the Defense of Human Rights.
The Haitian National Police expressed condolences to the families and colleagues of the officers killed and said they “call for peace and invite police officers to come together to advance an institutional response to the various criminal organizations terrorizing the Haitian people.”
“The movement will continue, we cannot allow the police to be killed like this,” said a masked man in a police uniform holding a pistol, who asked not to be identified. “We can do the job if they give us ammunition.”