When Haitian gangs tighten control, the cop’s family is shaken

When Haitian gangs tighten control, the cop’s family is shaken

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Each day as Daniel Marie Carmel’s husband put on his flak vest and walked out the door to fight another day against Haiti’s gangs, she wondered if he would be coming home that night.

Friday was the day her smiling spouse Ricken Staniclasse, who was 18, didn’t.

One of the country’s nearly 200 gangs ambushed its police force this morning and sent shots through the streets in an unexpected area – a villa-lined stretch of the country’s capital, Port-Au-Prince.

A gang led by Lionel Lazarre fought police patrol in the sweltering Caribbean heat as officers frantically called for reinforcements. But help never came, the country’s police union said.

The fighting killed three officers, hospitalized a fourth with gunshot wounds and left 44-year-old Staniclass missing.

Meanwhile, Carmel feared for herself and her three children.

“My husband fought with the gangs a lot, and we don’t know what could happen to us,” said Carmel, 43, while curled up on her red couch surrounded by neighbors. “I can’t sleep in the house anymore because I don’t know what could happen to us.”

The firefight was just the latest example of how Haitian gangs have grown in power and reach, leaving much of the population terrorized.

While the United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-Au-Prince is controlled by gangs, most Haitians today assume that number is closer to 100%.

Haiti has grappled with endemic gang violence for years, but following the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, the country spiraled into lawlessness.

Powerful gangs have taken advantage of the political chaos and dissatisfaction with the current government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry to further consolidate their control.

The government has failed to calm the violence and many are forced to flee their homes. News of rapes, kidnappings and assaults on the police have become the new norm.

Jolicoeur Allande Serge, director of the police unit attacked, said Friday’s attack in the Petion-Ville neighborhood was a sign of that. He noted that moving to upper-class areas “benefits[the gangs’]economic interests”.

Kidnappings and ransoms of up to $1 million have been an important part of funding such armed groups.

Meanwhile, the police units struggle to keep up.

While Canada and the United States have been sending armored vehicles and other supplies to Haiti, law enforcement officials say it’s only a fraction of what they really need.

Tensions remained high on Saturday and by afternoon Serge was standing amid a group of armored trucks dented by bullets. Officers with automatic weapons, their faces covered by black masks, scurried about.

A group of 50 officers returned to the area where they fought Friday night to try to break through a gang blockade and search for missing officer Staniclasse.

“I’ve lost three men… We’re not afraid. We’re frustrated because we don’t have enough equipment to fight,” Serge said as he saw a convoy of police trucks pull off the station. “We need ammunition, helmets, armored vehicles.”

Analysts expect the bloodshed to worsen, especially after Haiti’s last 10 elected officials ended their Senate term in early January, leaving parliament and the presidency vacant because the government failed to hold elections.

Critics say it has turned Haiti into a “de facto dictatorship.”

Meanwhile, people like Daniel Marie Carmel feel hope for their country fading. Carmel said her husband always hoped he could help clean up his town. Together they built a home and a life together. Her 11-year-old son dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps.

“He loved people, he loved helping people,” she said of her husband.

But two years ago, the violence in their neighborhood got so bad that they applied for visas to emigrate to the United States, hoping to join an exodus of people leaving Haiti. They never got an answer.

“I don’t know if he’s alive or dead, but I’m concerned,” she said. “If we could leave the country, my husband would still be alive.”

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