Haiti Gangs Try to Take Over Port-au-Prince Airport

Haiti Gangs Try to Take Over Port-au-Prince Airport
Editorial credit: A.PAES / Shutterstock.com

By Vanessa Buschschlüter | BBC News

Soldiers have been deployed to defend the airport of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, from an assault by armed gangs.

Witnesses reported hearing shots ringing out in the vicinity of Toussaint Louverture Airport as security forces clashed with armed men.

- Advertisement -

The gangs’ aim is to prevent the return to Haiti of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is believed to be abroad.

Violence has spiraled in his absence with the gangs demanding he resign.

Mr Henry left Haiti last week to attend a regional summit in Guyana. From there, he travelled to Kenya to sign a deal on the deployment of a multinational police force to Haiti.

His more recent whereabouts had been unknown but local media reported on Tuesday that he landed in Puerto Rico after the Dominican Republic closed its airspace.

Earlier, a spokesman for the US state department said: “It’s our understanding that the prime minister is returning to the country [Haiti]”.

While Mr Henry was in Kenya, a coalition of gangs led by a former police officer, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, went on the offensive, attacking police stations and storming two of Haiti’s biggest prisons.

About a dozen people were killed in the attack on the prisons. Thousands of inmates escaped and remain on the loose.

A minister standing in for Mr Henry declared a 72-hour state of emergency.

Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste reports that both international and national commercial flights have been suspended for the past days due to the violence. Le Nouvelliste added that no private planes had landed or taken off from the airport either.

An attempt by gunmen to breach the airport compound through a hole in a wall was reportedly repelled by security forces.

Control of the airport is key to the gangs’ aim of stopping Prime Minister Henry from coming back to the country.

The gang leader known as Barbecue has been calling for his ouster since the prime minister was sworn in as the successor to President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

Already rampant gang violence was further fuelled by the murder of President Moïse by Colombian mercenaries, which left a power vacuum in the country.

Armed gangs, wielding weapons smuggled in from the US, have gained control of an estimated 80% of the capital in recent years.

Prime Minister Henry has asked the international community to send troops to help fight the gangs. But a plan for Kenya to send 1,000 police officers to help contain the violence stalled after the Kenyan High Court blocked it.

Mr Henry was in Nairobi for talks with Kenyan President William Ruto to try to salvage the deployment, when the latest violence flared.

In a video posted on social media, Barbecue declared last week that “the first objective of our fight is to ensure that Ariel Henry’s government does not remain in power”.

On Saturday, his gang attacked several police stations before freeing thousands of prisoners from the National Penitentiary and from the Croix des Bouquets jail.

Only about 100 prisoners remained in their cells at the National Penitentiary, prison officials said.

Among those who stayed put were 17 Colombian ex-soldiers suspected of having carried out the assassination of President Moïse.

In a video, they pleaded for help, saying that other inmates were trying to get them to leave their cells and were going to use them “as cannon fodder”.

The Colombian foreign ministry later announced that the 17 had been transferred to a different prison.

Residents of the capital mainly stayed at home on Monday with only a few people venturing out to get drinking water or food, the AFP news agency reported.

Speaking from Haiti, Serge Dalexis from the International Rescue Committee said it had become extremely difficult for people to access basic services such as health care, food and water.

“There’s a lack of everything now in Port-au-Prince,” Mr Dalexis said, adding that shooting was being reported in many areas of the city.

An estimated 15,000 people have been displaced from their homes over recent weeks due to the violence.

Haiti: The basics

  • Population: 11.5 million (estimate)
  • Area: 27,800 sq km (slightly smaller than Belgium, about the same size as the state of Maryland in the US)
  • Location: Caribbean country sharing a border with the Dominican Republic
  • Languages: French, Haitian Creole

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.