Haiti goes hungry as looting sparks food shortage and society ‘plunges into chaos’…

Haiti goes hungry as looting sparks food shortage and society ‘plunges into chaos’…

Haiti ‘will go hungry soon’, it has been warned, as looting sparks a food shortage in the Caribbean country where out-gunned police are battling rampaging gangs.

Despite Haiti’s government on Thursday extending a state of emergency and nighttime curfew by a month to try and curb the violent gang attacks, US government officials fear that law and order could collapse within hours.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s main port was forced to close – days after thousands of inmates were broken out of two prisons, swelling ranks of gangs already enforcing their control of much of the nation – including the capital city.

Port-au-Prince has been paralysed in a fierce battle for political power, with Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier – an influential gang leader in Haiti – having warned of civil war and ‘genocide’ unless embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigns.

Henry travelled to Kenya last week to negotiate a UN-backed multinational police mission to stabilise his country. However, as he attempted to fly back to Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, he was prevented from landing by gang attacks on the airport.

He landed in the US territory of Puerto Rico instead, where he is believed to remain.

Haiti could go hungry soon, it has been warned, as looting sparks a foot shortage crisis in the country currently wracked by gang violence

Port-au-Prince has been paralysed in a fierce battle for political power, with Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier (pictured on Tuesday) – an influential gang leader in Haiti – having warned of civil war and ‘genocide’ unless embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigns

Out-gunned police in the Caribbean country are battling rampaging gangs

The attacks began a week ago, shortly after Henry agreed to hold general elections in mid-2025 while attending a meeting of Caribbean leaders in Guyana. 

Gangs have burned police stations, shot up the main international airport, which remains closed, and raided Haiti’s two biggest prisons, freeing more than 4,000 inmates.

An initial three-day curfew was announced over the weekend. 

But Despite the crackdown, gangs have continued to attack police stations and other state institutions at night with Haiti’s National Police struggling to contain the violence with limited staff and resources.

In many cases, the gangs are better armed than the police. 

‘The people with the guns are essentially the current arbiter of Haitian politics,’ said Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia.

‘The gangs have won the battle so far.’

Dozens of people have died in Haiti’s recent gang attacks, including several police officers. The violence also has left more than 15,000 people homeless, in addition to some 300,000 Haitians who lost their homes to gang wars in recent years.

In addition, there were reports that gangs on Thursday looted shipping containers filled with food at the main port in Port-au-Prince, raising concerns that provisions in the capital and elsewhere would dwindle quickly.

‘If we cannot access those containers, Haiti will go hungry soon,’ said Laurent Uwumuremyi, Haiti director for Mercy Corps.

The operator of the port, Caribbean Port Services SA, said in a statement Thursday that it was suspending all operations because of ‘malicious acts of sabotage and vandalism.’

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the insecurity has forced the World Food Program to suspend its maritime transport service.

The service is currently the only means of moving food and medical supplies for aid organisations from Port-au-Prince to other parts of the country. 

Two dozen trucks with equipment, medical supplies and food are stuck at the port in Port-au-Prince, he noted.

He also said the UN special envoy for Haiti, Maria Isabel Salvador, is calling for the immediate deployment of a UN-backed force ‘to prevent the country from plunging even further into chaos, as gang violence in Haiti has reached unprecedented levels.’

Salvador remains in close contact with the prime minister, the government and other parties across the political spectrum ‘to encourage a peaceful and constructive inter-Haitian dialogue to promote a nationally-owned political solution to this crisis,’ Dujarric said.

Gangs have burned police stations, shot up the main international airport, which remains closed, and raided Haiti’s two biggest prisons, freeing more than 4,000 inmates. Pictured: A protester holds a Haitian flag as tyres burn in the street behind him

People, carrying Haitian flags, march during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, on Wednesday

A man, carrying a Haitian flag, is seen during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry

Gangs again targeted police late Wednesday by setting fire to a headquarters in Bas-Peu-de-Chose, a neighborhood in the capital. 

Officers escaped before the attack, which also destroyed several police vehicles, according to Haiti’s police union Synapoha. 

Gunfire still echoed in parts of Port-au-Prince on Thursday, with blazing tires blocking some areas as people demanded new leaders for the battered country.

Schools and businesses remained closed, but calm returned to a handful of neighborhoods that saw some stores and banks open under a limited schedule.

Germain André, a 40-year-old shop owner who sells rice, oil, beans, milk and other basic goods, said he is having trouble finding provisions given dwindling food supplies across Port-au-Prince as people move around in fear.

‘Traveling is very scary,’ he said, noting that armed groups have stopped cars. 

‘No one is secure. Everyone is scared of each other now. We don’t know if they’re gang members.’

Haiti’s worsening crisis prompted the Royal Bahamas Police Force to announce Thursday that it had set up a blockade in the southeast part of the archipelago given the two jail breaks and the ‘mass displacement’ of Haitians.

The Bahamas, about 530 miles to the north, is a popular destination for Haitians fleeing their country.

The US has grown increasingly alarmed with the developing situation.

An aerial view of the slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 7

‘The country is falling apart, and everyone is watching,’ said Fatton, who criticised the US government for not taking action more than two years ago and lamented the current state of Haiti. ‘I am dumbfounded. I thought I had seen everything.’ 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to ask for an ‘urgent’ political transition, said a US official.

Blinken spoke with Henry about ‘the urgent need to accelerate transition to a broader, more inclusive government today,’ said Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for the Western hemisphere.

Blinken pressed on ‘the need for a more inclusive government that includes many more political forces and has the breadth to take the country through the electoral period,’ Nichols said at the Council of the Americas trade group.

Meanwhile, a US Defence official said a Marine Corps Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team, or FAST team, was to be deployed to Haiti to protect the US Embassy. 

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the deployment, the Associated Press said.

A final decision on the deployment has not yet been made.

On Wednesday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the US has asked Henry to ‘move forward on a political process that will lead to the establishment of a presidential transitional council that will lead to elections.’

Shortly afterward, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller echoed her remarks, saying Henry ‘needs to expedite the transition to empowered and inclusive governance.’

Henry has not made any public comments since the gang attacks began last week.

On Thursday, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said Caribbean leaders have been working around-the-clock to help find a political consensus to alleviate Haiti’s crisis as they continue to talk to local stakeholders.

‘It is indeed a distressing situation for the region, but we have a responsibility to do everything we can do to enable the Haitian people to find a consensus and to find a path that is Haitian-led and Haitian-owned in bringing together a level of stability and normalcy that the Haitian people so richly deserve,’ he said.

Police intervene with tear gas canisters against demonstrators in Haiti on March 7

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen flanked by Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry (left) and Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, (right) in this photo taken during a meeting on September 22, 2023

In power since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, Henry was due to leave office in February but instead agreed to a power-sharing deal with the opposition until new elections are held.

When the latest unrest broke out, Henry was in Kenya to negotiate a UN-backed multinational police mission to stabilise his country.

Now, his power is hanging by a thread.

Henry filled the void left by Moise’s assassination to the protest of wide segments of the population, but with the full-throated support of the Biden administration.

‘They messed it up deeply,’ James Foley, a retired career diplomat and former US ambassador to Haiti, said in an interview about the Biden administration’s support for Henry. ‘They rode this horse to their doom. It’s the fruit of the choices we made.’  

Stubborn US support for Henry is largely to blame for the deteriorating situation, said Monique Clesca, a Haitian writer and member of the Montana Group, a coalition of civil, business and political leaders that came together in the wake of Jovenel Moïse ‘s murder to promote a ‘Haitian-led solution’ to the protracted crisis.

The group’s main objective is to replace Henry with an oversight committee made up of nonpolitical technocrats to restore order and pave the way for elections. 

But so far, Henry, who has repeatedly promised to hold elections, has shown no willingness to yield power.

While in Guyana last week for a meeting of Caribbean leaders, he delayed what would be Haiti’s first vote in a decade yet again, until mid-2025.

‘He’s been a magician in terms of his incompetence and inaction,’ said Clesca. ‘And despite it all, the U.S. has stayed with him. They’ve been his biggest enabler.’

Henry has not commented on the surge in unrest and was last confirmed to be in Puerto Rico as gang violence at Haiti’s main airport made his return risky.

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk said Wednesday the violence was ‘beyond untenable’ with 1,193 people killed countrywide this year by gangs.

Last year, more than 8,400 people were reported killed, injured or kidnapped, more than double the number reported in 2022. The United Nations estimates that nearly half of Haiti’s 11 million people need humanitarian assistance. 

The United States urged Henry to hold fair elections, but added it was not calling on him to resign – a key demand of Haiti’s gangs.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry gives a public lecture at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, March 1, 2024. A new wave of violence broke out in Henry’s home country of Haiti during his visit to Kenya

US diplomat Nichols called for greater assistance from the world.

‘We’ve got to do more urgently. The crisis in Haiti has the humanitarian proportions that demand a global response, the way the international community is responding to the challenges in Ukraine or in Gaza,’ he said.

Haiti, the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation, has been in turmoil for years, and Moise’s assassination plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

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