Long isolated in slums, criminal gangs have been spreading their tentacles across Haiti, and the nearly three million people of Port-au-Prince have been forced to adapt their daily lives to this reality, fearful of becoming the next victim.
“Today the gangs are masters and lords of the country,” warns Gédéon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in the Haitian capital.
The organization notes an alarming increase in kidnappings in Haiti. In the first three quarters of 2021, more than 600 cases were registered, compared to 231 in the same period of 2020.
The kidnapping of pastors and parishioners in October, some in the middle of Sunday masses, by gang members who sometimes act in the open shows that nowhere is safe.
“No place is safe – anything can happen anywhere,” says Daphne Bourgoin.
At 42 years old, this manager of a textile company has seen how her life and that of her family have radically changed due to the rise of the gangs. She, her husband and their two children had to leave their home due to increased crime in a poor neighborhood that they crossed daily to get to work.
“Crossing the Martissant every day was no longer safe,” recalls Daphne. “We had to rent a house and that was not in our budget or in our life. It’s like starting over, ”he sighs.
At the beginning of June, the inhabitants of the Martissant neighborhood left when several armed gangs tried to take control of this strategic enclave. One of the main highways that connects the northern and southern halves of Haiti passes through here.
Even Doctors Without Borders, based in Martissant since 2006, has decided to move its emergency center to the center of Port-au-Prince. “We spoke with community leaders on the ground and realized that the safety of our teams was no longer guaranteed,” said Désiré Kimanuka, project manager for the NGO.
The clashes have spread to other poor neighborhoods in the capital. About 20,000 citizens of the poorest in the country have had to take refuge in recent months in gyms and public facilities, according to the UN.
The truce declared by the leaders of the Martissant gang after the August 14 earthquake to allow the arrival of humanitarian aid to the victims of southern Haiti did not last a month.
The control of armed gangs over a two-kilometer stretch of the national highway de facto prevents safe access to two of the three oil facilities in Haiti.
And the third, located in the shanty town of Cité Soleil, has been quick to raise the alarm: “In the last two weeks, a dozen tanker trucks have been hijacked,” says David Turnier, president of the National Association of Distributors of Petroleum Products.
“I don’t have a state, I don’t have a police force, I don’t have someone to take care of me”
The fuel shortage limits the movements of the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince, already drastically reduced by the risk of kidnapping.
“We don’t go out at night and the first thing we do when we get up is to look at ‘how the street is,’ that is, check the different alert groups on WhatsApp to see if we go out or not,” explains Bourgoin.
“My children live with this fear. When I go out, they ask me where I am going (…) because they know that you can go out and not come back, ”he says sadly.
This woman leaves the house once or twice a week, always during the day. When he recently heard gunshots in broad daylight in front of the workshop where he works, located in a supposedly quiet neighborhood, he did not even try to call the police.
The Haitian National Police, contacted by AFP about the security situation, declined to comment.
“I don’t have a state, I don’t have a police force, I don’t have anyone to take care of me. If something happens to me, I will be one more case ”, she says resignedly.