Violence Escalates in Haiti as Gangs Attack National Palace and Interior Ministry

aerial photography of assorted color buildings

Prime Minister Stranded Abroad, US Military Personnel Enter Haiti to Assist Embassy Staff.

Over the weekend, Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, experienced a surge in violence as heavily armed gangs attacked the National Palace and set fire to part of the Interior Ministry using petrol bombs. This violence follows a sustained attack on the international airport, which remains closed to all flights, including one carrying Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Henry, who attempted to return to Haiti from the United States last week, was refused permission to land and was subsequently turned away from the neighboring Dominican Republic, leaving him stranded in Puerto Rico, unable to enter the nation he ostensibly leads.

Amidst this chaos, a group of US military personnel managed to enter Haiti following a request from the US State Department. The Pentagon confirmed an operation to “augment the security” of the US embassy in Port-au-Prince and airlift all non-essential staff to safety. Similarly, the EU evacuated all of its diplomats, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

However, millions of Haitians are trapped in the midst of this violence, with no means of escape. The State University of Haiti Hospital, known as the general hospital, is in a dire state, with no medical staff present. Patients are left unattended, with a decomposing body lying in a bed next to them, highlighting the desperate conditions.

The gangs’ control over the capital is nearly absolute, with reports indicating they control more than 80% of Port-au-Prince. The country’s most notorious gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, has demanded the prime minister’s resignation, warning of civil war and genocide if his demands are not met.

The police, outnumbered and demoralized, are struggling to maintain order. Looting and attacks on police stations are rampant, further destabilizing the situation. Despite the dangers, many people are forced to venture out to make a living, as the economic repercussions of the violence are deeply felt.

The instability in Haiti has prompted an emergency summit of the Caricom regional group in Jamaica, highlighting the regional and international concern over the situation. The idea of a nation of some 11 million people being run by gangs is of huge concern, particularly given the potential impact on outward migration.

While the Biden administration has publicly called for Henry’s return to Haiti to stand down and begin a transition to a new government, privately, US diplomats are increasingly aware that his return may further destabilize the situation. A UN-backed plan for a Kenyan-led rapid reaction force to tackle the gangs is still far from becoming a reality.

In addition to the gang violence, around 4,000 inmates escaped a week ago after an attack on the main prison in Port-au-Prince, further contributing to the lawlessness gripping the nation.

With a prime minister unable to return, violent gangs in control of the capital, and dead bodies piling up on the streets, Haiti is currently a nation on the brink of collapse, facing one of its biggest crises in recent history.