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Haiti Declares State of Emergency as Armed Gangs Overrun Prisons, Sparking Unprecedented Violence

In a desperate bid to regain control of the streets and quell a surge in violence, Haiti’s government declared a state of emergency and implemented a nighttime curfew on Sunday. The move comes after armed gang members stormed the country’s two largest prisons, allowing thousands of dangerous criminals to escape.

The 72-hour state of emergency, effective immediately, was announced by Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, acting prime minister, who urged the police to use “all legal means” to enforce the curfew and apprehend offenders. The situation escalated over the weekend as coordinated attacks by armed gangs targeted state institutions, police stations, the international airport, and even the national soccer stadium.

The shocking siege of the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince marked a new low in Haiti’s ongoing spiral of violence. Almost all of the approximately 4,000 inmates escaped, leaving the usually overcrowded facility eerily empty. The violence over the weekend resulted in at least nine deaths, including four police officers.

Among the chaos, 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of involvement in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse remained in the prison. In a plea for their lives, Francisco Uribe, one of the Colombians, shared a video widely circulated on social media, revealing the indiscriminate violence within the cells.

The situation has prompted the Haitian government to seek support from the United Nations for a peacekeeping force to stabilize the country. Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who traveled abroad last week in an effort to garner international support, faces significant challenges as armed gangs continue to wreak havoc.

The violence has also led to a halt in official travel to Haiti by the U.S. Embassy, urging American citizens to leave as soon as possible. The Biden administration, which has refrained from deploying troops but offered financial and logistical support, expressed grave concern about the deteriorating security situation.

In less than two weeks, several state institutions have been targeted by increasingly coordinated gang attacks, with the Central Bank becoming an unthinkable target. Haiti’s National Police, overwhelmed and outgunned, struggles to maintain order in the face of criminal elements estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Former elite police officer Jimmy Chérizier, known as Barbecue, has claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks. His stated goal is to capture Haiti’s police chief, government ministers, and prevent Prime Minister Henry’s return.

As the nation plunges further into chaos, the state of emergency underscores the urgency of international intervention to support and deploy a multinational security force. The United Nations has emphasized the dire humanitarian situation, with civilians trapped by gang violence, schools closed, hospitals non-functional, and thousands suffering daily.

Haiti, once again at a crossroads of violence and instability, awaits the international community’s response to its plea for assistance in restoring order and ensuring the safety of its citizens.