As Haitian gangs expand control, police officer’s family is shaken

As Haitian gangs expand control, police officer’s family is shaken

As Haitian gangs expand control, police officer’s family is shaken

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Every day when Daniel Marie Carmel’s husband put on his bulletproof vest and headed out for another day of fighting Haiti’s gangs, she wondered if he would come home that night.

Friday was the day her smiling 18-year-old husband, Ricken Staniclasse, didn’t.

One of the country’s nearly 200 gangs ambushed his police unit that morning, sending gunfire echoing through the streets in an unexpected area – a stretch of mansions in the nation’s capital, Port-Au-Prince.

A gang led by Lionel Lazarre fought the police patrol in the sweltering Caribbean heat as the officers desperately called for backup. But help never arrived, the country’s police union said.

The clashes killed three police officers, hospitalized a fourth with gunshot wounds and left 44-year-old Staniclasse missing.

Carmel, meanwhile, was terrified for herself and her three children.

“My husband was fighting a lot with the gangs and we don’t know what could happen to us,” said Carmel, 43, as she curled up on her red couch surrounded by neighbors. “I can’t sleep at home anymore because I don’t know what could happen to us.”

The shooting was just the latest example of how Haitian gangs have grown in power and expanded, leaving much of the population terrified.

While the United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-Au-Prince is gang-controlled, today the majority of Haitians on the streets estimate that number to be closer to 100%.

Haiti has struggled with endemic gang violence for years, but the country has descended into lawlessness following the 2021 assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse.

Powerful gangs have taken advantage of the political chaos and discontent with the current government led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry to further consolidate their control.

The government failed to curb the violence, forcing many to flee their homes. Reports of rapes, kidnappings and ambushes against the police became the new norm.

Jolicoeur Allande Serge, director of the police unit attacked, said Friday’s raid on the Petion-Ville neighborhood was a sign of that. He noted that moving to upper-class areas “benefits (the gangs’) economic interests.”

Kidnappings and ransoms of up to US$1 million have been a key part of the financing of these armed groups.

Meanwhile, police units struggle to keep up.

While Canada and the United States have sent armored vehicles and other supplies to Haiti, law enforcement officials say it’s only a fraction of what they really need.

Tensions remained high on Saturday, and by afternoon Serge was among a group of armored trucks dented with bullets. Officers armed with automatic weapons, their faces covered by black masks, moved about.

A group of 50 police were returning to the area where they fought on Friday night to try to break through a gang roadblock and look for the missing officer, Staniclasse.

“I lost three men… We are not afraid. We are frustrated because we don’t have enough equipment to fight,” said Serge as he watched a convoy of police trucks leave the station. “We need ammunition, helmets, armored vehicles.”

Analysts expect the bloodshed to get worse, especially after Haiti’s last 10 elected representatives ended their terms in the Senate in early January, leaving the parliament and presidency vacant because the government failed to hold elections.

Critics say this turned Haiti into a “de facto dictatorship”.

Meanwhile, people like Daniel Marie Carmel feel their country’s hope dwindling. Carmel said her husband always hoped he could help clean up their town. Together they built a home and a life together. The 11-year-old son dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps.

“He loved people, he loved helping people,” she said of her husband.

But two years ago, violence began to get so bad in their neighborhood that they applied for a visa to migrate to the United States, hoping to join an exodus of people leaving Haiti. They never got an answer.

“I don’t know if he’s alive or dead, but I’m worried,” she said. “If we could get out of the country, my husband would be alive.”

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