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Gangs Control Most of Haiti Capital as Police Face Attacks

Haiti's national police, outgunned and outnumbered by gangs, have ceded control of most of the capital city of Port-au-Prince and officials told residents they should take their protection into their own hands amid spreading insecurity and the widespread collapse of law and order, the New York Times reports. Gangs operate with impunity across Port-au-Prince and increasingly in wealthy enclaves above the city, analysts say, tightening their grip by attacking police officers and destroying police stations. “The police are completely absent, the authorities are completely absent, the government is completely absent,” said Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network. A United Nations official in Haiti said in December that gangs controlled about 60 percent of Port-au-Prince. Now analysts like Espérance estimate that the figure has risen to more than 90 percent. The United States, Canada and other countries have provided security aid to Haiti, including anti-gang and SWAT training and armored vehicles. But police officials say even more is needed to counter the firepower of the gangs, which have armed themselves through shipments of powerful weapons trafficked into the country from the United States.

The ruthless hallmarks of gang rule have advanced beyond the capital: More than 200 people were killed across the country in the first two weeks of March alone, mostly from snipers randomly shooting at people in their homes or on the streets, according to a United Nations report released this week. The assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021 unraveled the country, tipping it into terror and disarray: There is, effectively, no elected government. The national police force has shrunk to fewer than 9,000 members, according to the United Nations, from as many as 15,000 three years ago, after many officers quit or left the country, among other factors. A spree of killings of Haitian police officers in January sparked outrage among the rank-and-file, many of whom abandoned their stations and checkpoints in all but a few areas. The prime minister’s residence, the National Palace and some government ministries remain under police patrol. Police officials describe a force under siege — unable to protect themselves, let alone civilians. At least 12 police officers were killed in January. Biden administration officials are pushing to rally a multinational armed force to Haiti, though the effort has stalled, largely because no country wants to lead it.


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