Haiti: Armed gangs battle for complete control of the country

Гаити: вооруженные банды ведут борьбу за полный контроль над страной

Despite the lack of security, daily life continues on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Haiti: Armed gangs battle for complete control of the country Peace and Security

Haiti is facing one of the darkest chapters in its history. This conclusion can be drawn from a report released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The main conclusions of the authors of the report are in our material today.  

Haiti is a relatively small Caribbean country with a population of eleven and a half million people, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti has been plagued by political instability for decades. Previously, this state was led by dictators, but now the country has plunged into a whirlpool of violence – everything is run by opposing gangs. >

The frequency and intensity of violence by organized crime groups in Haiti has increased dramatically since February 2024. In the first two weeks of March, gangs intensified their attempts to gain control of the capital and neighboring areas. A new phenomenon for the country was a coordinated effort aimed at capturing strategic sites: the presidential palace, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the international airport, hospitals, police stations and customs services.

On the evening of March 2 G9 and G-Pèp gangs attacked two prisons in Port-au-Prince and Croix-des-Bouquets. During the shootout, several people died, almost five thousand prisoners escaped. Among those who escaped were well-known gang leaders, as well as those suspected of involvement in the assassination of the country’s President Jovenel Moïse, committed in July 2021. After organizing a prison break, the gangs attacked the international airport, killing several police officers and civilians. 

The escalation of violence is causing serious harm to the safety of ordinary people in the country. In March 2024, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that at least 1,554 Haitians had been killed in the first three months of 2024, with a further 826 injured. Tens of thousands of people across the country have been forced to flee their homes to escape violence.  

Гаити: вооруженные банды ведут борьбу за полный контроль над страной

A woman who lost her home as a result of gang violence now lives in a destroyed theater building in the center of Port-au-Prince.

Entrenched corruption

The factions that control a large part of the country maintain ties with the political and business circles of Haiti. Many legislators, government officials and businessmen use gangs both for protection and as a tool of coercion. Gangs and their patrons are recruiting Haitian citizens living outside the country to purchase and smuggle weapons from the United States. 

One of the most influential gangs, 400 Mawozo, played a significant role in the growth of the current wave of violence. Since January 2020, this group has been kidnapping hostages for ransom. In October 2021, the 400 Mawozo gang claimed responsibility for taking 16 United States citizens and a Canadian citizen hostage. 

Cash received in as a ransom for the release of hostages, goes into the gang’s general fund and is transferred through the MoneyGram and Western Union services to the United States for the purchase of firearms. In 2023, the United States House of Representatives passed the Act Conspiracy Transparency in Haiti, designed to increase sanctions and prosecution of United States residents who assist Haitian gangs.

An insight into how firearms and ammunition are acquired, transported and distributed in Haiti comes from the criminal trial of former 400 Mawozo gang leader, who pleaded guilty in a US trial in January of this year to conspiracy to commit arms trafficking. and committing a number of other crimes.  

Weapons supplies from the USA

Former gang leader Germine Joly told the court that he led a criminal activities from a Haitian prison cell using a mobile phone. He informed his accomplices, who were living in Florida at that time, the characteristics of the types of weapons that needed to be purchased. They, in turn, bought the necessary samples from gun stores in Florida, falsely indicating that they were the “actual buyers.” 

In May 2021, firearms purchased in the United States were transported to Haiti under the guise of food and household items. During the trial, one of the defendants in this case confirmed that some Haitian senators provided support to the bandits and patronage of this scam.

Гаити: вооруженные банды ведут борьбу за полный контроль над страной

Downtown Port-au-Prince remains extremely dangerous due to gang violence.

Sanctions regime

Several prominent current and former politicians and businessmen are suspected of involvement in arms smuggling into Haiti. A number of senior political figures representing departments in the south of the country have been sanctioned by the Dominican Republic, Canada and the United States for their involvement in gang support, drug trafficking and corruption. According to the investigation, they invested in the construction and maintenance of airstrips and private ports, in the acquisition of speedboats and charter aircraft. The extent of their involvement in illegal activities remains to be fully assessed, the authors of the UNODC report note.

In October 2022, the Security Council, through resolution 2653, established a sanctions regime against Haiti. In October 2023, the sanctions were extended for another year. The regime consists of targeted sanctions, including a travel ban, an asset freeze, and an arms embargo that prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of weapons and ammunition.

Mass emigration

The escalation of gang violence has led to mass migration of the population. Haitians are leaving the country via sea, land and air routes towards the United States, Canada, the Dominican Republic and others Caribbean countries. An estimated 338,486 Haitian citizens left Haiti in 2023.  

Read also:

LET’S EXPLAIN | What are the causes of the food crisis in Haiti?


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