Agents from the Haitian National Police (PNH) and soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) carried out a huge joint operation in Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cite Soleil neighborhood the night of Dec. 21-22. According to MINUSTAH spokesperson Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, the operation was intended to stop a recent wave of kidnappings in the capital and to “reopen the main road into Bois Neuf,” part of Cite Soleil. She said that in this and other recent operations about 24 kidnappers had been arrested and six kidnapping victims had been freed.
No soldiers or police agents were killed in the Dec. 21-22 operation, according to Boutaud de la Combe, but some kidnappers may have died. Reporters found three bodies in the morgue of the Hopital Sainte Catherine, a local hospital. Various media reported from eight to 10 killed, and gang leaders in Cite Soleil put the number of deaths at 17. More than 20 people were reportedly injured, and there was a water shortage in some areas because water tanks had been shot up. By the afternoon of Dec. 22 the neighborhood “looked like a region at war for several days, where only few people dared go out on the street to try to flee the area or to transport a wounded person to a medical center,” the Haiti Press Network (HPN) website reported.
Although it is well known that kidnapping gangs operate out of Cite Soleil, some residents said most of the victims in the police operation were actually neighborhood people with no connection to crime. Residents also charged that the operation was not aimed at the gangs but was intended to recover an armored vehicle that frightened MINUSTAH soldiers had abandoned in the area on Dec. 21; residents reportedly burned the vehicle and confiscated a M-50 rifle. Boutaud de la Combe denied the reports. (AlterPresse, Dec. 22; HPN, Dec. 22-6; Agence Haitienne de Pressem Dec. 22)
Kidnappings have risen dramatically in the past two months. About 100 occurred in November and 60 more had been reported by Dec. 15. The kidnappers have increasingly targeted children. Seven children were captured from a school bus on Dec. 13; they were released two days later after their parents paid a ransom. In a different incident, a six-year-old was killed. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs, Dec. 15 from Reuters)
The crime wave has added to anger at both the police and the MINUSTAH military occupation, which many Haitians oppose and which has done little to reduce criminal activity. On Dec. 20 an enraged crowd surrounded a police station in Delmas, a Port-au-Prince suburb, to demand that kidnapping suspects held there be turned over to them. The crowd set up barricades of flaming tires, blocked the town’s main road, broke car windows and threatened to burn down the police station. The police had reportedly captured two or three suspects (reports vary on the number) while they were in the process of kidnapping three people near the police station. According to the Agence Haitienne de Presse news service, two of the suspects were themselves police agents. Riot police and MINUSTAH soldiers arrived to disperse the crowd with tear gas and gunshots. One person received a bullet wound in the incident, a reporter was hit by a rock, and a United Nations vehicle was set on fire. (AlterPresse, Dec. 20; AHP, Dec. 20)
Some Haitians feel the US is contributing to the crime wave by stepping up the deportation of Haitian immigrants convicted of crimes in the US. On Dec. 20 group of 50 of these deportees arrived in Port-au-Prince. Although deportees are often people convicted of nonviolent crimes, the Haitian government claimed that 38 of the deportees from this group were highly dangerous. (Alterpresse, Dec. 20) (The 50 deportees were presumably the group referred to by US immigration authorities on Dec. 14; see Immigration News Briefs, Dec. 21.)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 24
See our last post on Haiti.