Thu, Jan 26, 2023 2:14 PM
By PIERRE RICHARD LUXAMA and MEGAN JANETSKY, The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Outraged rebel police officers paralyzed Port-au-Prince on Thursday, roaring through the streets on motorcycles in protest of a slew of killings of police officers by Haitian gangs.
More than a hundred protesters blocked roads, shot guns into the air, and broke through gates in the capital's airport and the Prime Minister's house, with tensions escalating throughout the day.
Gangs have killed at least 10 officers in the past week; another is missing and one more has severe bullet wounds, according to the Haitian National Police.
Video circulating social media — likely recorded by gangs — shows the naked and bloodied bodies of six men stretched out on the dirt, their guns laying on their chests. Another video shows two masked men who are smoking cigarettes from the dismembered hands and feet of the dead men.
The gang who killed them, known as Gan Grif, still has the bodies, police said.
The wave of grisly killings of police is only the latest example of escalating violence in the Caribbean nation, which has been gripped by gang wars and political chaos following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
His unelected successor as head of the government, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has asked the United Nations to lead a military intervention, but no country has been willing to put boots on the ground.
The deaths enraged members of Fantom 509, an armed group of current and former police officers that has violently demanded better conditions for officers.
Dozens of these men wove through city on Thursday, many wearing hoods along with police uniforms, flak jackets and rifles and automatic weapons. They seized buses to blockade roads and torched tires across the city, leaving smoke plummeting through the streets.
Many demanded tougher crackdowns on the gangs, and called for the end to Henry's administration, which many Haitians view as illegitimate. Demonstrators broke down one of the gates outside Henry’s home and a barrier at the Port-au-Prince airport, where he planned to make an appearance later in the day.
“We need a revolution,” screamed one protester dressed in a bullet proof vest, helmet and gas mask. “We are in the streets to fight, for our brothers and sisters who are victims of the bandits. We have to take to the streets every day to get what we want.”
A video recorded by local Haitian media shows empty streets and closed businesses on a key road of Port-au-Prince where the rebel group passed through.
In addition to the bodies displayed by the gang, a number of officers were killed last week in a firefight with gangs in a neighborhood that was once considered relatively safe.
Since Henry took the reins of the country, 78 police officers have been killed, according to a Thursday report by Haitian human rights group, National Network of the Defense of Human Rights.
The Haitian National Police expressed condolences to the slain officers' families and colleagues, and said it's "calling for peace and invites police officers to come together to bring forward an institutional response to the different criminal organizations that terrorize the Haitian people.”
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti also tweeted Thursday afternoon asking for calm.
The United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by the gangs. On the streets of the capital, Haitians say it's more like 100%.
This week, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti urged the American and Canadian governments to lead an international armed force to help Haiti combat the gangs. Haitian police, meanwhile, are pleading for more resources.
“The movement will continue, we can’t let police get killed like this,” said one masked man in a police uniform carrying a pistol who did not want to be identified. “We can do the job if they give us ammunition."
Associated Press journalist Evens Sanon contributed to this report.