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BBC | Haiti: Weapons from the United States flow into Port-au-Prince, fueling the explosion of violence

  • March 27, 2024
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Haiti is a paralyzed state.

More than two weeks after the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, following an upsurge in violence in Port-au-Prince, the details of a presidential transition council have still not been revealed.

One of the challenges this council will face is illegal arms trafficking, which fuels the gangs that have taken control.

The escalation of violence has triggered an exodus from the capital.

Among those leaving is David Charles, 14, whose father, Israel, is nervous with excitement as he waits for his son’s bus in Cap-Haïtien.

A bus with boarded-up windows stops on the side of the road. He smiled in anticipation. Her 14-year-old son, David, soon comes down the stairs with his luggage. They hug each other tightly.

David managed to escape Port-au-Prince – a city now torn apart by armed gangs and political chaos. Most of the violence plaguing Haiti is centered in the capital: the UN estimates that 80% of it is now controlled by gangs.

He had lived there for two years without his parents, in order to continue his studies, but Israel did not want him to “become a victim”.

This month’s torrent of violence prompted him to move his son out to Cap-Haitien, a safer town in the north of the country.

“The journey was very long, more than six hours. I was praying the whole way,” David says. “The bus driver then told us there had been a lot of gunshots in one area, our bus just missed them. »

Other passengers on the bus look exhausted, relieved but also upset. A man in a dark T-shirt and sunglasses speaks softly when we ask him how he is. But he becomes visibly angry when he tells us he has a message for the United States.

“All the weapons here come from the United States, everyone knows that. If the United States wants to stop this, they could do it in a month! » He implores: “We ask the United States to give us a chance to live, just a chance. »

For a country that does not manufacture weapons, a UN report in January found that all types of weapons were flowing into Port-au-Prince: high-powered rifles such as AK47s, 9-inch pistols, mm, sniper rifles and machine guns.

Guns are fueling Haiti’s staggering surge in gang-related violence.

There is no exact figure for the number of weapons currently trafficked in Haiti.

The UN report says some estimates put it at half a million legal and illegal weapons here in 2020.

He reported that weapons and ammunition were being smuggled by land, air and sea from US states such as Florida, Texas and Georgia.

Seizures were made at the country’s main ports in Port-au-Prince, Port-de-Paix and Cap-Haïtien. Illegal weapons are hidden in shipping containers among donated toys and clothing.

In July 2022, Haitian authorities seized a huge quantity of dozens of weapons with 15,000 rounds of ammunition. They were hidden in a shipment from Florida to an Episcopal church in Haiti.

The UN also identified the use of several clandestine airstrips built for humanitarian purposes after the devastating 2010 earthquake, which are now barely monitored.

Earlier this month, a U.N. spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters that the U.N. secretary-general’s message to gangs in Haiti was to “silence the guns.”

In the corner of his office, the chief prosecutor of Cap-Haïtien, Charles-Edward Durant, keeps a semi-automatic machine gun.

He says he needs security whenever he travels. For him, things have never been so bad in Haiti. “It’s a nightmare, a horrible dream. I would like Haitians to wake up and work to have a better country. »

Is he worried that, with so many weapons in circulation, violence could spread to Cap-Haïtien?

At this, he smiles with more confidence: “We resist, we have our means: informers, checkpoints. Are they afraid of us? Of course. We don’t play. Everything can happen. If a gangster comes, it’s not to play, and we don’t play with them either. »

The United States says it will also tackle the problem of guns and gangs.

Last year, the State Department indicated it had plans to help establish a new police unit in Haiti to combat arms trafficking in the country.

Barbara Feinstein, the assistant secretary of state for Caribbean Affairs and Haiti, said at the time that it was only “part of the equation.”

Continuation of the text available at the following link: Haiti: US guns pour into Port-au-Prince, fuelling surge in violence – BBC News