Police officers desert the streets of Port-au-Prince

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Some prefer to travel in civilian clothes. Others arrive at police stations not yet attacked with their families, according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost

The police largely deserted the streets of Port-au-Prince on March 7, 2024, a few days after the spectacular escape of several thousand prisoners in the country’s two largest prison centers, notes AyiboPost.

Within police stations in the metropolitan region, dozens of officers do not respond to calls. Others arrive – sometimes in civilian clothes – at the stations that are still operational with their families.

And on communications channels, police officers speak openly of their distrust of the leaders of the institution, according to half a dozen interviews conducted by AyiboPost with officers on duty.

Three members of the high command came to take shelter in one of the three centers on Champ-de-Mars due to insecurity, according to an agent on site. Two police officers find themselves in the station with women and children, after the fire in their houses in neighborhoods in turmoil.

Within police stations in the metropolitan region, dozens of officers do not respond to calls. Others arrive – sometimes in civilian clothes – at the stations that are still operational with their families.

For a week, the police institution has been under frontal attack.

In eight days, half a dozen police stations were burned by bandits, Lionel Lazarre, head of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers, told AyiboPost.

“The police are on their knees,” concludes Lazarre. “We ask the government to give us resources, but they have never given importance to the problem of insecurity.”

Some police officers avoid the streets so as not to become targets for bandits. “They are discouraged,” continues Lazarre. They are afraid and have the impression of being alone, without leaders.”

Distrust is gradually coming to light. A police officer familiar with the conversations reports having heard – which remains unusual – openly hostile statements on the institution’s radios.

“We don’t have a director,” a police officer reportedly said. “The bandits and the police have the same leaders,” continued another.

In eight days, half a dozen police stations were burned by bandits, Lionel Lazarre, head of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers, told AyiboPost.

AyiboPost does not have access to these communications, but several police officers report a climate of distrust and similar messages in WhatsApp groups.

“With all this disorder, the police chief should have resigned,” comments a Port-au-Prince police officer. For the thirty-year-old who requests anonymity for security reasons, the few agents who still come to work do so out of conviction.

“It’s visible that the high command is no longer respected in the streets today,” Samuel Madistin, president of the Je Klere Foundation, comments to AyiboPost.

In a report made public this Wednesday, the organization calls for the revocation of the High Command of the Haitian National Police and the High Staff of the army to revitalize these institutions.

Read also : Récit d’une évasion spectaculaire au pénitencier national

Meanwhile, Haiti continues its accelerated descent into chaos.

Wednesday evening, the Carribean Port Services, the largest container unloading port in the metropolitan region, was attacked and then looted by bandits. “If we cannot access the containers [from the port], Haiti will soon suffer from hunger,” warns the NGO Mercy Corps in a press release.

Several supermarkets and small businesses are ransacked by gangs.

Corpses litter several streets, in a context where water, food, and medical supplies are scarce.

“The lower part of the town belongs to the bandits who confine us to Champ-de-Mars,” analyzes a police officer to AyiboPost. Another agent says he does not dare venture near the Sylvio Cator stadium without the protection of an armored vehicle.

“If the Champ-de-Mars falls, with the presence in particular of the army, the Port-au-Prince police station, the departmental service of the judicial police and the Intervention and Maintenance of Order Corps in the around, it’s the end,” says another.

We ask the government to give us the means, but they have never given importance to the problem of insecurity.

In the rest of the capital, citizens go to bed in fear. “It’s stressful, I can’t sleep,” says Marthe, a resident of Canapé Vert.

The young professional lives in a part of the city where charred corpses are common. “The smell of some streets is unbearable,” she told AyiboPost. “I fear stray bullets, and the feeling of danger is constant. »

The Haitian National Police, created in the 1990s, suffered from an investment problem from the start.

Already understaffed and under-equipped, the institution lost nearly 800 police officers in the first half of 2023, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of agents have left for the United States since the Humanitarian Parole program opened for Haiti in January 2023, AyiboPost learns.

Supported over the years by the United States, France or Canada, the PNH has never been able – despite the tens of millions of dollars invested – to ensure the security of the country. The Haitian army — distrusted by several international partners — lacks personnel and equipment.

It is visible that the high command is no longer respected in the streets today.

“We cannot demand total commitment from the police, when the State, their guardianship, does not fulfill its own functions,” Romain Le Cour, Researcher at the organization Global Initiative (GI-TOC), analyzes to AyiboPost. “It is important,” he said, “to recognize the immense tribute paid by police officers and their families for the defense of what remains of the State. »

A dozen police officers reported to AyiboPost in interviews conducted in 2023 and at the beginning of this year a glaring salary problem, dilapidated police stations with sometimes rusty service weapons and a hierarchy incapable of improving their situations.

Read also : Haïti : les hôpitaux dépasssés par les évènements

Bandits set fire to the Salomon market this week, but “no measures have been taken by police officials,” complains a police officer from the Port-au-Prince police station.

In interviews, most of the agents return to the images of their colleagues at the Bon Repos sub-police station who were torn to pieces with machetes by bandits on February 29, after they had called for help for hours. “The high command is incompetent, it does nothing to boost our morale,” complains another agent, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Last Saturday, gangs surrounded the national penitentiary, set fires in the surrounding area and fired in the direction of the largest prison center in the country. The announcement of the attack had been public since the morning on social media. But this did not prevent the release in a few hours of several thousand prisoners at the Croix des Bouquets penitentiary and prison.

An ongoing investigation will have to determine those responsible.

But interviews conducted by AyiboPost with three police officers on the ground this evening suggest the guards abandoned the penitentiary, leaving the doors wide open.

This is also the conclusion of the latest report from the Je Klere Foundation.

“Traumatized by the events at Bon Repos or by choice or acting in collusion with the bandits, the police officers from the Directorate of Prison Administration (DAP) abandoned their post and left the prison gates open,” we can read in the human rights body’s document.

This surreal scenario is reminiscent of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. Just like in the prison, the police fled almost without resistance as soon as the armed men landed at the head of state’s home.

“The government authorities have resigned,” writes the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights in a report dated March 6, 2024. “The streets of the capital and the entire West department are handed over to armed bandits. And the Haitian population is simply abandoned to their fate. »

Legal proceedings must be initiated against the high command of the police, for not having prevented the escalation of violence and the escapes, according to the RNDDH.

This call echoes the sentiment expressed by many in the PNH.

“We are struggling without hope,” an agent who sent his family to Santo Domingo in 2023 told AyiboPost. “I continue to work for the check, but we are forced to make a withdrawal. »

By Widlore Mérancourt

Image de couverture : Prensa Latina


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