A surge in violence rattles Haiti as poverty, deepening fear

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (AP) —The attack was brave and live-streamed on the Internet. A man with a big gun stepped into a church service on Maundy Thursday, grabbed a minister and three parishioners, and took them away with a panoramic view of the camera.

For Haitians, it was a terrifying emblem of waves of kidnapping and death, at the expense of even the poor already stabbed by years of violence on the streets.

Stephen Jerome, one of the victims of the church’s abduction, spent the first night in the hands of a prisoner sitting in a chair for fear of closing his eyes. Meanwhile, relatives of the victims, such as parishioners and Jerome’s sister Suze, scrambled to raise money to free them.

“People gave 10 Gould, 15 Gould whatever they had,” she told The Associated Press, referring to donations that reached 13-19 US cents.

Victims of the April 1 kidnapping in the Gospel Crayor province were relatively fortunate. They were released almost three days later. However, Jerome and others remain traumatized, and some of their relatives find themselves in debt and are forced into poverty after paying the ransom.

Like most, the kidnapper was not caught.

Kidnapping has become commonplace, and radio stations often broadcast convictions such as “Don’t kill him,” “Help me collect the ransom,” and “Help me find the body.”

And the police seem to be overwhelmed. At least four police officers were killed in a failed raid on the home of a criminal organization last month, holding the bodies of the killed police officers hostage and causing a rebellion within the police class.

A few days later, then Prime Minister Joseph Juice said at a news conference that the ransom could range from $ 300,000 to $ 1 million. Haiti is a country with a population of 11 million, and about 60% earn less than $ 2 a day.

“No one in the population has such money,” he said. “Even I don’t know where to get it if they ask me for $ 300,000, even if they’re kidnapped.”

A recent report by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti reported 234 abductions in 2020, up from 78 in the previous year. The new cases included 59 women and 37 minors.

Reported homicides increased as well. Police statistics are unreliable, but authorities reported killing 1,380 people last year, and the United Nations said it was up 20% from the previous year. Victims included a judge and the chairman of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association.

Intensified violence urged businesses, banks and schools across Haiti to shut down this week in a protest called “Black Thursday.” Some schools are temporarily closed due to dangerous areas.

“For some time we have seen Haitian society fall into hell,” the office of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port-au-Prince said in a statement on April 12. “Armed group violence accounts for an unprecedented proportion.”

Human rights group Fondasyon Je Klere states that more than 150 gangs are active in Haiti, some dedicated to kidnapping. Recent victims include five priests, a hospital director, an elementary school student, and members of the president’s security forces.

There is no exemption from poverty.

Magdala Luis, 33, lived in a tin hut with her little son, sold hot dogs, and recruited students to a cosmetology school to earn a living.

On December 6, five men with automatic weapons grabbed their necks in a car waiting for a male friend who was DJing at a school graduation ceremony. They were blindfolded, taken home and asked who in the family had the money. She replied that her mother and father were already dead.

She pleaded in her head, “God, are you going to let them kill me and leave my little baby behind?”

Her sister and neighbor went to the radio station and repeated that she was a hot dog seller who didn’t have the money to pay the ransom.

In the end, her friend’s family paid for both releases, but Louis said she was too afraid to leave home for work.

Due to the intensification of violence, the US Embassy in Haiti has issued a recent statement calling on the Haiti government to “strengthen efforts to protect citizens and bring responsible persons to trial.” The Organization of American States has issued similar charges.

President Jovenel Moise’s administration states that it has arrested members of the gang, increased the presence of police and created a task force to dismantle the gang.

A local police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, but Serge Terio, the chief of police at the UN Integrated Office in Haiti, said that even if the amount of normal street violence was the same as before, “The awareness of today’s anxiety and violence has increased,” he admitted. Year.

Therriault said police are not only collecting information to target gang leaders, but also setting blockades in the areas where gangs live.

“This has brought some success,” he said. “Police are still trying to develop various means to solve the problem.” For political and socio-economic problems “, best suited for the country in the circumstances they have, including the growth of gangsters. You need to get them to find the right solution.

Pamela White, a former US ambassador to Haiti, said the surge in violence also distributed aid to countries that were still recovering from the 2010 catastrophic earthquake, the deadly cholera outbreak, and the current pandemic. He said he was confusing his efforts.

“When a country is constantly involved in violence every day, it’s very difficult to do that,” she said.

Prime Minister Claude-Joseph has told AP that he has accused AP of increasing violence against unpopular political factions that said he was trying to undermine the general elections scheduled for September.

Whatever the cause, violence disrupted the lives of Haiti as a whole.

Roselaine Belizaire, a 25-year-old fashion design student who sells handmade face masks to help pay tuition, sometimes turns back and stays with her friends after a shooting on her way home from school. He said he was forced to do that.

“I had too many shots and started running and lost my mask bag,” she said.

Food vendor Jean-Paul, 26, said he was attacked this month by armed men who mistakenly accused him of bringing food to a rival gang. He cried and one man said, “Shoot him! Shoot him,” though he was finally released.

Doctors Without Borders recently moved 21 burn victims from hospitals in the Cite de Soleil district to Doctors Without Borders, said Align Serin, mission director of the International Assistance Group. Said.

Kindergarten teacher Suze Jerome said he borrowed “a lot” of money to pay his brother’s ransom. “Money I don’t own, money I never have”.

Now that her brother has been released, she is trying to find a way to repay it.

“I’ve never seen this situation before,” she said. “You are not safe wherever you are.”