Haiti declares state of emergency after 4,000 inmates escape jail amid rising violence

Monday, March 04, 2024
 – The Haitian government has declared a state of emergency after thousands of inmates escaped from its largest prison following an explosion of gang-led violence over the weekend.

The government cited the “deterioration of security,” notably in the capital Port-au-Prince, and “increasingly violent criminal acts perpetrated by armed gangs,” including kidnappings and killings of citizens, violence against women and children, and looting, according to a statement from Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, who is serving as acting prime minister.

It also cited the attacks by armed groups on Saturday against the country’s two largest prisons, one in Port-au-Prince and another in Croix des Bouquets, which led to the escape of “dangerous prisoners” and caused deaths and injuries among police and prison staff.

A United Nations’ source said Sunday that around 3,500 prisoners are believed to have escaped Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-Au-Prince during the weekend.

There had been 3,687 prisoners at prison, according to the source. The UN mission in Haiti tracks incarcerated populations and humanitarian conditions in prisons in the country.

According to Haitian lawyer Arnel Remy, head of the Collective of Lawyers for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti, (CADDHO), a total of 3,597 prisoners escaped from the National Penitentiary. CNN cannot independently verify CADDHO’s figures.

Remy said his team was at the prison on Sunday and told CNN the remaining inmates are being moved to other facilities and that the penitentiary is now empty and surrounded by police vehicles.

The Haitian Ministry of Communication said in a statement Sunday that police confronted “heavily armed criminals seeking at any cost to free people from custody” and were “not able to stop the criminals from freeing a large number of prisoners.” The violence left several inmates and prison staff injured, it said.

Gangs led by Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer known as Barbecue, are trying to force Henry from power.

He also said he would continue in his effort to try to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

“We ask the Haitian National Police and the military to take responsibility and arrest Ariel Henry. Once again, the population is not our enemy; the armed groups are not your enemy. You arrest Ariel Henry for the country’s liberation,” Cherizier said, adding, “With these weapons, we will liberate the country, and these weapons will change the country.”

Cherizier is a former police officer who heads an alliance of gangs. He has faced sanctions from both the UN and the United States Department of Treasury.

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