Haiti Is Now An Open Air Prison, Say Residents.

Photo: US Navy. A small baby contemplates the future of Haiti.
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Petionville has always been regarded as a prosperous green and leafy suburb of Haiti’s capital of Port au Prince, with large homes safe behind stone walls, but in Haiti’s current state of anarchy nowhere is safe.

The community recently voted to buy a metal barricade and install it themselves to try to protect residents from the violence and armed robberies that killed or injured more than 2,500 people in Haiti from January to March, according to a recent UN report.

Every morning citizens wake up to find new dead bodies lying in the street.

Life in Port-au-Prince has become a game of survival, pushing Haitians to new limits as they scramble to stay safe and alive while gangs overwhelm the police and the government, such as it is,  remains largely absent.

When CARICOM and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gathered weeks ago to bang together the heads of Haitian officials and form a multiparty committee to take over the government, they expected action within hours if not days, as Haitian politicians insisted they were capable doing what no one has done for two hundred years, in solving the problems of governing Haiti themselves without outside interference.

The United States apparently went along with this plan, because no foreign nation, especially not the US,  really wants to have to come into Haiti and restore order in the face of heavily armed gangs.

Yet there is no sign of the “transitional committee” that was self-appointed weeks ago to take over the government having yet taken any kind of executive action or issued any statements of intent.

Some neighborihoods are installing metal barricades. Others just drive faster while driving near gang-controlled areas. The few who can afford it stockpile water, food, money and medication, supplies of which have dwindled since the main international airport closed in early March. The country’s biggest seaport is closed and cargo ships cannot enter the port or discharge cargoes safely.

“People living in the capital are locked in, they have nowhere to go,” Philippe Branchat, International Organization for Migration chief in Haiti, said in a recent statement. “The capital is surrounded by armed groups and danger. It is a city under siege.”

Phones ping often with alerts reporting gunfire, kidnappings and fatal shootings, and some supermarkets have so many armed guards that they resemble small police stations.

Gang attacks used to occur only in certain areas, but now they can happen anywhere, any time. Staying home does not guarantee safety: One man playing with his daughter inside his home was shot in the back by a stray bullet. Others have been killed.

Schools and gas stations are locked up, with fuel on the black market selling for $9 a gallon, roughly three times the official price.

Banks have prohibited customers from withdrawing more than $100 a day, and checks that used to take three days to clear now take a month or more.

Police officers have to wait weeks to be paid.

Gangs that control an estimated 80% of Port-au-Prince launched coordinated attacks on February 29, targeting critical state infrastructure. They set fire to police stations, shot up the airport and stormed into Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

At the time, Prime Minister Ariel Henry was visiting Kenya to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force. Henry has been unable to return to Haiti because the airports are closed, and why would he want to return anyway?

The transitional presidential council tasked with selecting the country’s next prime minister and Cabinet remains inactive and seemingly impotent.

If the government cannot end this crisis, the civilian population is doing its best to fight back. Haitians have formed a vigilante movement known as “bwa kale,” that has killed several hundred suspected gang members or their associates.

More than 95,000 people have fled Port-au-Prince in one month alone as gangs raid communities, torching homes and killing people.

Those who flee via bus to Haiti’s southern and northern regions risk being gang-raped or killed as they pass through gang-controlled areas where gunmen have opened fire.

Violence in the capital has left some 160,000 people homeless, by some estimates.

The days of pickup soccer games on dusty roads and the nights of drinking Prestige beer in bars with hip-hop, reggae or African music playing are long gone.

“It’s an open-air prison,” Langlois said.The violence has also forced businesses, government agencies and schools to close, leaving scores of Haitians unemployed.

Manoune, a government immigration officer, said she has been earning money selling treated water since she has no work because deportations are stalled.

The European Union last week announced the launch of a humanitarian air bridge from the Central American country of Panama to Haiti. Five flights have landed in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, site of Haiti’s sole functioning airport, bringing 62 tons of medicine, water, emergency shelter equipment and other essential supplies.

But there is no guarantee that critical items will reach those who most need them. Many Haitians remain trapped in their homes while armed gangs control the streets.

Aid groups say nearly 2 million Haitians are on the verge of famine, more than 600,000 of them children.

Nonetheless, people are finding ways to survive.

Back in the posh neighborhood where residents are installing a metal barricade, sparks fly as one man cuts metal while others shovel and mix cement. They are well underway, and hope to finish the project soon.

Others remain skeptical of the value of the initiative, citing reports of gangs using bulldozers and similar equipment to tear down police stations and, more recently, metal barricades.

Source: VOA, AP,
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