Haiti’s gangs are saying — with guns — ‘talk to us’ if you want the nation back


Haiti’s  gangs are going after political targets now — and as they try to terrorize the country into ceding them a role in a new transitional government, Haitians say their suffering and despair are only worsening.

Those powerful criminal groups, which now rule most of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and much of the rest of the country, are demanding a seat on the seven-member Transitional Presidential Council, which was created last week from among Haiti’s political parties and civil society sectors but has yet to be legally installed.

As if to illustrate that political agenda, the gangs this week have burned and looted government institutions like Haiti’s National Library.

“Right now the gangs are in control – and they’re speaking through the force of arms,” Louis Henry Mars, executive director of the Haitian community development nonprofit Lakou Lapè, told WLRN from Port-au-Prince.

“They’re saying: ‘We are burning, looting, killing and raping until you talk to us.’”

Mars said the gangs are being helped by the fact that Haiti’s feuding political class is holding up legal authorization of the transitional council.

Meanwhile, the ramped-up gang rampage is cutting Haitians off from food, water, fuel and medical care, especially as aid containers get hijacked at the country’s main port. Hundreds have been killed in the streets — the U.N. says some 1,500 Haitians have been killed in gang violence so far this year — and more than 50,000 have been driven from their homes.

They include two of Mars’ close friends, who he said on Wednesday morning barely escaped a gang attack on their Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Tabarre and are now among the city’s new wave of displaced.

“The worst thing of the situation is the loss of lives — but also the loss of hope, the sense of despair,” Mars said. “And until you have a balance of forces, this is going to continue.”

The U.S. is now sending Haiti’s overwhelmed national police an additional $10 million weapons package to help improve that balance. And so far special police units have been able to keep the gangs from invading Haiti’s true seat of government power, the National Palace.

Still, until some sort of international police support force is deployed in Haiti, few expect the gangs to be neutralized — and, in turn, any transitional government council to be able to stabilize the country and lead it to desperately needed new elections.

A mission to be led by a thousand Kenyan police is being delayed and its deployment looks questionable.

Mars emphasized the Haitian political class and the international community, especially the U.S. and the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, are unlikely to accept any sort of gang presence on the transitional council — even in the person of Guy Philippe, a former police commanders and ex-drug trafficking convict whom the gangs appear to support as their political representative.

But he added that in the continued absence of “any sort of armed force to face the gangs, there may have to be some of sort of mediation with the gangs” to reach a peace that would let the transitional council do its work.

That is, if Haiti’s politicians ever give the council the constitutional green light to do that work. Regardless, Mars emphasized that Haiti and the international community have to start addressing “the root causes” of the gang tragedy.

“Mediating peace has to involve finding the social solutions that keep this from repeating itself down the line,” Mars said. “Jobs, education, opportunity — and that starts with ending the sucking of the money in this country by the few at the expense of the many.”

That’s especially true, say many Haiti experts, since many of those elites are also accused sponsoring the gangs as their street enforcers — which in recent years has resulted in U.S. sanctions against some Haitian politicians and business leaders.


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