Gangs in Haiti launch fresh attacks, days after a new prime minister is announced

Residents walk past a burnt car blocking the street as they evacuate the Delmas 22 neighborhood the morning after an attack amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

By DÁNICA COTO Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Gangs in Haiti laid siege to several neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, burning homes and exchanging gunfire with police for hours as hundreds fled the violence early Thursday in one of the biggest attacks since Haiti’s new prime minister was announced.

The attacks began late Wednesday in neighborhoods including Solino and Delmas 18, 20 and 24 located southwest of the main international airport, which has remained closed for nearly two months amid relentless gang violence.

“The gangs started burning everything in sight,” said a man called Néne, who declined to give his last name out of fear. “I was hiding in a corner all night.”

He walked with a friend as they carried a dusty red suitcase between them that was stuffed with clothes — the only thing they could save. The clothes belonged to Néne’s children, whom he had rushed out of Delmas 18 around dawn during a pause in the fighting.

The neighborhoods that once bustled with traffic and pedestrians were like ghost towns shortly after sunrise, with a heavy silence blanketing the area except for the occasional bleating from a lone goat.

An armored police truck patrolled the streets, rolling past charred vehicles and cinderblock walls where someone had scrawled “Viv Babecue,” a reference in Haitian Creole to one of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders.

People whose homes were spared in the attack in Delmas 18 and other nearby communities clutched fans, stoves, mattresses and plastic bags filled with clothes as they fled by foot, motorcycle or on colorful small buses known as tap-taps. Others were walking empty-handed, having lost everything.

“There were gunshots left and right,” said Paul Pierre, 47, who was walking with his partner in search of shelter after their house was burned down. They couldn’t save any of their belongings.

He said the overnight fighting separated children from their parents and husbands from their wives as people fled in terror: “Everyone is just trying to save themselves.”

Martineda, a woman who declined to give her last name out of fear, said she was left homeless after armed gunmen torched her home. She fled with her 4-year-old, whom she said tried to run away when the gunfire erupted late Wednesday.

“I told him, ‘Don’t be scared. This is life in Haiti,'” she said as she balanced a heavy load of goods on her head including butter that she hoped to sell to make some money and find a new home.

When asked to recount what happened overnight, she said: “Gunfire, gunfire, gunfire everywhere! No one slept. Everyone was running.”

The attack occurred in an area controlled by Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who is leader of a powerful gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies.

He and other gang leaders have been blamed for coordinated attacks that began on Feb. 29 across the capital, Port-au-Prince. Gunmen have burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

The attacks eventually forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign and led to the creation of a transitional presidential council whose majority unexpectedly announced a new prime minister on Tuesday: Fritz Bélizaire, a former sports minister. The move is threatening to fracture the nine-member council, which was sworn in last week.

As new leaders take charge of the country amid squabbling, Haitians are demanding that they prioritize their safety as gangs remain more powerful and better armed than Haiti’s National Police.

More than 2,500 people have been killed or injured from January to March of this year, a more than 50% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the U.N.

Meanwhile, more than 90,000 people have fled Port-au-Prince in just one month as gangs that control an estimated 80% of the capital have increasingly been targeting previously peaceful neighborhoods.

Ernest Aubrey recalled how he moved to Delmas 18 a decade ago. Now, he’s leaving home for the first time.

“It’s too much. We can’t resist anymore,” he said of the gangs. “They are taking everything we own.”

As he walked with a heavy bag, he spotted an acquaintance leaving in a car and ran toward them to see if he could get a ride.

One of the few people who opted to stay in Delmas 18 was Vanessa Vieux. While she sent her elderly mother to the countryside early Wednesday after the attack, she decided it was best if she didn’t relinquish her home to gangs. Plus, she has faith in Haiti’s National Police.

“I live next to a police officer,” she said. “That’s why I’m not scared.”


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