Masked men raced around Port-au-Prince on motorcycles, firing guns into the air and burning tires to block major roads and bring the Haitian capital to a halt.
At one stage, a mob flooded the airport, trapped Prime Minister Ariel Henry inside, and also attempted to break into Henry’s residence.
Given the Extreme gang violence hit Haiti in the past yearthe failure was not surprising in some respects.
But this time, it wasn’t the bandits who terrorized the capital, but the country’s police. Officers took to the streets last week to demand government action.
The riots were initially attributed to Fantom 509, a group of rebel police who demoted in 2020 and 2021, but as the protests spread it became clear that they were not just a destructive minority. became.
“Phantom 509 is very likely involved, but the protests are far more widespread than that,” said Renata Segura, deputy director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group. .
Haiti has long been plagued by political turmoil and gang warfare, but the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has plunged the country into further turmoil.
The country currently has no elected officials Gangs control two-thirds of the capital. Criminals then left behind unprecedented hunger, rampant human rights abuses, and deadly cholera epidemics.
Now the police themselves are in rebellion.
“Police officers feel that the authorities don’t care about their lives, and taking to the streets is the only way out,” said Francisco Osir, spokesman for the police union Sinapoja.
A recent uprising was sparked by a gruesome video showing the corpses of six young police officers lying naked on the floor, with weapons placed over them. This was a morbid attempt to humiliate a police officer and show off gang power.
Six police officers killed in a shootout with the Sabien gang in the town of Liancourt bring the number of police officers killed in January to 15. By 2022, at least 54 police officers will be part of the gang. was killed by
Diego Da Lin, a consultant and expert with the International Crisis Group, said: “The authorities feel that their lives are worthless and that they are being used as pawns in a power game controlled by politicians. There is this anger among the officers because they are doing it.” in Haiti.
The Caribbean nation has only 9,500 police officers for a population of 12 million, and many security roles must be fulfilled, including the military. Haiti’s military was disbanded in 1995 after it launched a series of coups and committed human rights abuses.
But Haitian security forces are overwhelmed by gangs who publish cash and automatic weapons on social media. Their leadership is also inadequate, said Louis-Henri Mars, director of Haiti’s peace-building nonprofit Rakou Lapaix.
When the latest killings were met with silence from officials, it fueled officers’ suspicions that they were seen as cannon fodder by the elite.
“So many young people are being killed, but so far there has been no response from the hierarchy other than press releases,” says Henri-Mars. “Officers don’t read press releases! And when they’re being killed by dozens, they don’t need press releases! They need a Napoleon in full gear on the front lines… here leadership are really lacking.”
Oksir said he felt officials were doing little to comfort the families of those killed in combat and those whose bodies were often left to decompose in gang strongholds.
More than 3,000 officers have left the military since the beginning of 2021, Oksir said.
Henry requested international military assistance It plans to help fight gangs in October 2022, but so far Western countries have been reluctant to send troops.
Like all agencies in Haiti, the police are deeply ingrained in criminal networks. Low-ranking officers earning less than $200 (£162) a month are easily bribed by warlords, and high-ranking government officials may command troops and wage wars on behalf of gangs.
was also accused by the police Attacking the media as a means of silencing criticism and suppressing protests.
But in a failed state without an army, the military remains the last line of defense between criminals and Haitians, Occil said. But he said he needed vehicles and weapons to succeed.
“Outside Haiti, the National Police may seem less powerful and somehow ineffective, but we have the will to fight crime. ”
Oksir said the union did not support violent protests, but expected them to intensify unless the prime minister took swift action.
A day after the riots, Prime Minister Henry and the country’s police chief, Franz Elbe, issued a public call for calm and promised renewed action in response to attacks on police officers.
Herbe announced the launch of Operation Tornado, a nationwide counteroffensive against gangs, and ensured that police stations across the country would be reinforced. The police chief said new weapons and equipment are being prepared but their shipments have been delayed.
Gangs responded more quickly.
The day after the announcement of Operation Tornado, police academy principal Surrounded by cover of night Police station on the outskirts of the capitaluse heavy equipment to attack.
“This bodes bleak for the future of the Haitian police force,” Da Lin said.