Prisons emptied the country is in the hands of armed

“Prisons emptied, the country is in the hands of armed gangs”

Haiti has landed in a black hole of anarchy and violence. Gunfights continue to take place on the streets between gangs that now control a large part of the capital. Thousands of prisoners have escaped from the country's two main prisons, in the capital Port-au-Prince and in Croix des Bouquet. “Freed” from the armed gangs who attacked prisons and police barracks with the help of drones. The number of deaths is unknown, but the situation is “terrifying”, as confirmed by the Italian Flavia Maurello, representative of the AVSI Foundation in Haiti. Shops, schools and banks are closed. “The residents are actually prisoners of the gangs in the slums or are forced to flee their homes and into their own land,” reiterates Maria Vittoria Rava of the Francesca Rava Foundation. A state of emergency was declared for three days, with a curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. All airlines have suspended flights to and from Haiti. And interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is in Kenya to sign an agreement to send 1,000 soldiers from a security force under UN auspices, risks being unable to repatriate.

One of the leaders, Jimmy, known as “the Grill”

This is probably one of the goals of the armed groups that now control the entire lower part of Port-au-Prince. One of their leaders, Jimmy Cherizier, known as “Barbecue,” had announced an offensive to unseat Henry, who was supposed to leave office in early February, and instead called new elections for 2025. The interim prime minister is called a “usurper” by a section of the Haitian population and a powerful elite following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. The suspected Colombian killers of this murder, as well as the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, who was considered an instigator along with Moise's widow, refused to join the escape and were transferred to another prison, police report.

“The prisons were literally evacuated by armed gangs, with over 4,000 inmates escaping. The one in Port-au-Prince is almost empty, less than 10% of the prisoners remained behind bars, those who had nowhere to go,” reports Maurello. “It was undoubtedly a planned and financed attack. It is difficult to say by whom, but it is clear that these attacks have political roots that reinforce the power and instability of the gangs. Most police stations in the capital have been destroyed and the police have retreated to the academies to await new attacks.”

A census has not been conducted in Haiti since the devastating 2010 earthquake, but it is estimated that the vast majority of the population lives in the capital, around 10 million people. They are all barricaded in their homes, except for the gang members who set up tire barricades. AVSI had to stop its activities in the capital's slums. “Since 2004, we have been providing basic services in multifunctional centers for women, children and youth in the four largest slums where there is no state, but at the moment this is not possible,” concludes Maurello. “Even in Cap-Haïtien, in the north, there is a lot of violence at the moment.”

The efforts of the Rava Foundation

The Rava Foundation's two hospitals continue to operate despite thousands of difficulties. “The situation here is very serious, the violence is escalating, but we must not lose our strength and hope and we continue to bring medical aid to the slums, to Cité Soleil, Carrefour Marrin and Carrefour Fourgy, as well as water and food to the forced refugee families.” Gangs forced to leave their homes,” says Father Rick Frechette, head of the foundation’s projects in Haiti. The Rava Foundation is launching an urgent appeal to purchase cots and beds for St Damien Children's Hospital, which treats 80,000 children each year. “Our doctors are an example of courage, they continue to work, they sleep here so as not to face the shootings in the dark,” says Dr. Pascale Gassanti, director of the hospital. “We have been here since 1987 and we will not stop now if we can continue to save a few small lives, even if the difficulties are immense.”

“They kill each other among brothers, Haiti is now a ghost country where it is difficult to see people walking normally through the streets,” says Maria Vittoria Rava, who has just returned from a visit to the capital. “I've had Haiti in my heart for 25 years, I spent many Christmases there with my family, but today I wouldn't take anyone there. Too dangerous. It is very easy to become the target of a flying bullet. The only bulwark is the knowledge that we have two hospitals. What we need to be able to keep open.”