Haitian vigilantes battle Barbecue’s gangs in Port-au-Prince as country’s elites vie for power – with island left in darkness after power stations are ambushed and dead bodies litter the streets

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • US embassy is in darkness as power stations in the capital are attacked by gangs 
  • Nearly 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of famine with parts of the capital now ‘comparable with any war zone in the world’ according to latest reports

The gang warfare tearing Haiti apart is being fought in the dark after concerted attacks on power plants plunged much of the capital Port-au-Prince into darkness.

Hundreds of dead bodies now lie unburied in the streets as residents hastily band together into vigilante groups to protect themselves against armed factions bolstered by thousands of convicts freed from stormed prisons.

Chaos escalated since Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced from office last week amid attempts by armed gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier to seize power.

Nearly 1.5 million Haitians are on the brink of famine and Monday’s attacks on five of the state’s power stations has left them ‘completely dysfunctional’.

‘Such acts of theft and sabotage only further aggravate the financial and technical situation of the company, by the acts of vandalism and terror of bandits,’ a spokesman for EDH said.

A resident checks to see if he knows one of the hundreds of dead now littering the streets

The attackers carried off electrical equipment, batteries, computers and office equipment, as well as company documents.

It left much of the capital in darkness including the area around the US embassy in the east of the city.

Around 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince was already in the hands of armed gangs before Henry was swept from power last week after announcing another delay to long-postponed elections.

He is now stranded in neighboring Puerto Rico trying to broker a transitional government as the gangs extend their control, blockading fuel, food and water supplies outside the city.

Cherizier, a former police officer turned gangster, has claimed responsibility for the latest surge in attacks, and said his goal is to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers and prevent Henry’s return to the Caribbean nation.

Barbecue’s threats will have struck fear into the hearts of many Haitians, with his reputation for burning people alive – something he has long denied – preceding him.

But terrified residents are flocking to a vigilante movement known as ‘bwa kale’ which attempts to preserve neighborhood security through shared surveillance systems, checkpoints and patrols.

Gang leader Jimmy ¿Barbecue¿ Cherizier has pledged to seize control of the Caribbean island

Gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier has pledged to seize control of the Caribbean island

A woman in the capital weeps as the bodies of people she knew are taken from the streets

A woman in the capital weeps as the bodies of people she knew are taken from the streets

No area in the capital is free from horror as gangs battle police and each other for control

No area in the capital is free from horror as gangs battle police and each other for control

Ariel Henry, 74, tendered his resignation on March 11, a week after the growing coalition of gangs warned of civil war if he did not step down

Ariel Henry, 74, tendered his resignation on March 11, a week after the growing coalition of gangs warned of civil war if he did not step down

Bodies lay in the garbage as residents tried a haphazard cremation in the streets

Bodies lay in the garbage as residents tried a haphazard cremation in the streets 

Thousands have been killed in the violence and nearly 1.5 million are at risk of famine

Thousands have been killed in the violence and nearly 1.5 million are at risk of famine 

The movement took off last year when residents in relatively prosperous districts managed to expel the Ti Makak gang from their streets.

‘This is the way the gangs operate: they take over areas with big businesses and force them to pay them while they remain in control,’ one vigilante told CNN on Monday.

‘We constantly receive threats; they say they will come and attack us, destroy the neighborhood.

‘So we block the streets and the police to do the searches; no civilians are involved in searching cars.

He said the vigilantes are armed only with ‘machetes and our bare hands’, but the UN believes them responsible for killing hundreds of ‘gang members’, often burning their bodies in the streets.

‘The bandits send the spy on a motorcycle to come see if there’s a barricade in the road, and how many people are manning it,’ the vigilante said.

‘But if someone comes looking suspicious, they’ll question him, find out who he is, check his telephone. If he has messages with bandits, they have to take him.

‘Then they burn them.

‘It’s not a war, the neighborhood is trying to protect itself.’

The city’s port and airport have been shut, and parts of the east end ‘have malnutrition rates comparable with any war zone in the world’, according to Jean-Martin Bauer of the UN’s World Food Program.

He noted that Croix-des-Bouquets, in the eastern part of Haiti’s capital, ‘has malnutrition rates comparable with any war zone in the world’.

The leader of the alliance of gangs, former police officer Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier, allegedly gained his nickname after incinerating his enemies

The leader of the alliance of gangs, former police officer Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier, allegedly gained his nickname after incinerating his enemies 

Violence escalated on March 11 and has left the police struggling for control

Violence escalated on March 11 and has left the police struggling for control 

Some hospitals in Port-au-Prince have been forced to close over safety concerns, and only two surgical operating facilities are operational, according to UNICEF.

And shortages of electricity, fuel and medical supplies have affected hospitals nationwide, with six out of ten facilities not able to function.

‘It’s like a scene out of Mad Max. Honestly, that’s what it seems like,’ said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell.

‘Gangs, vigilantes responding to the gangs.

‘Now they’ve basically taken over the capital, they’ve taken over the airport. What that means for people is that we can’t get aid in again, it’s very difficult for us to do that,’ said Russell.

‘I mean, it’s literally one thing after another for Haiti, and I think right now, it’s the worst that anyone has seen in decades.’

A charter flight carrying dozens of American citizens fleeing the country landed in Miami on Sunday, after the US Embassy urged citizens to leave ‘as soon as possible’.

Passenger Avlot Quessa, who lives in Boston, traveled from the center of the country to board the charter flight after going to Haiti last month for was supposed to be a weeklong trip to visit his mother.

Armed militias roam with impunity through the lawless streets of the capital

Armed militias roam with impunity through the lawless streets of the capital 

Basic services are a distant memory in a country that was already struggling to recover from two devastating earthquakes in 2011 and 2020

Basic services are a distant memory in a country that was already struggling to recover from two devastating earthquakes in 2011 and 2020

The situation has seen thousands flee their homes, as locals continue to report the overwhelming stench of the dead. Meanwhile, politicians across the region are scrambling for a solution - one that may now be in sight following Henry's removal

The situation has seen thousands flee their homes, as locals continue to report the overwhelming stench of the dead. Meanwhile, politicians across the region are scrambling for a solution – one that may now be in sight following Henry’s removal

‘It’s just terrible. The suffering, you can only imagine,’ Quessa told The Miami Herald of the nearby Caribbean nation.

‘Haiti is my homeland and it’s very stressful to see the homeland going through this act of violence, destruction, and they are our neighbors.

The State Department announced on Saturday that it would offer limited charter flights for American citizens from the less chaotic northern city of Cap-Haïtien.

Officials said they could not provide ground transportation to Cap-Haïtien and that U.S. citizens should consider the charter flights ‘only if you think you can reach Cap-Haïtien airport safely.’

‘We encourage U.S. citizens still in Haiti who seek to depart to contact the Department of State using the crisis intake form on our website if they have not already done so,’ the agency said.

‘They are only miles away from Miami,’ said Quessa, ‘We cannot turn our eyes back on Haiti.’

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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