It was reported in mid-June how thousands of people were trapped in a remote area of Port-au-Prince without access to food, water, or medical treatment as fights between rival gangs soared in the Cite-Soleil suburb of Port-au-Prince. According to local media, members of a gang affiliated with the G9 alliance entered the Bel-Air neighborhood and encountered resistance from gang members affiliated with G-Pèp.
While Port-au-Prince has long suffered from gang violence, the war between G9 and G-Pèp has raised it to new levels over the past three weeks. This week, the UN reported that over the past ten days, more than 200 people had been killed in gang violence, with nearly half of its victims playing no part in the violence. The UN alleges that the gangs are fighting to control the Cité Soleil neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Gang members engaged in a fierce gun battle amongst each other and the police. The violence led to the city’s cathedral catching fire. A spokesman for the Port-au-Prince archdiocese, Father Marc Henry Siméon, said that firefighters had managed to extinguish a blaze at the church, which has been used as the city’s cathedral since the Notre Dame Cathedral was destroyed.
Haiti had been trafficking US guns into the country via shipping containers labeled ‘church donations’ until the cargo containers were searched and seized on July 14. The containers held 18 “weapons of war,” four handguns, with nearly 15,000 rounds of ammunition shipped from the United States to the Episcopal Church of Haiti, which claimed the documents were falsified.
The Episcopal Church that was supposed to receive the cargo containers’ representation clarified that the church is not under investigation. Following its lawyers’ words, the church issued a statement claiming that it had not expected to receive any shipments from outside Haiti and that it cannot be held liable when criminal organizations use its name without its consent.’
It seems as though chaos has reached new levels as innocent civilians walk past bullet casings in classrooms while classes remain suspended until further notice. While Inmates at the National Penitentiary broke out of their cells as gunfights popped off nearby, the prison’s director strangely said the situation was under control. While others described the current state of Port-au-Prince as “lawless.”
Locals remain in what one described as a ‘cycle of fear, stress, and despair.’ They remain low on food and water due to the supply chain cut-off that happened as a result of the frequent shoot-outs. Due to the supply chain disruption, the World Food Programme and the UN Children’s Fund have started delivering aid directly to the most vulnerable people in Cité Soleil.
About 3,000 residents were forced to flee; many had nothing to return to after the gangs destroyed or burned their homes down. While others remained in their homes, refusing to be moved by the bullets and food shortage.
A young resident who chose to stay in his home described to the UN how his life had changed after living through the past few weeks: “I go to bed and wake up to the sound of gunfire, which is very stressful. But even if the shooting terrifies me, I try to use the rhythmic sounds of bullets being fired to lull me to sleep; this is the only way I can survive.” He added, “Sometimes you can use music to escape the constant shooting noise, but not when shots are being fired so close to your house; it’s just too loud.”
As many condemn the gun trafficking ruining and detaining innocent people, Haitian officials are working hard to figure out how and who is shipping the unauthorized guns to Port Au Prince while separately investigating a different instance of gun smuggling this month, which led to the arrested a state prosecutor and a prominent lawyer who served as an advisor to the justice minister, according to media reports.
Former Hatiaian senator Ronald Lareche chose to speak on gun trafficking following the murder of his sister and brother-in-law, declaring that the most recent findings of gun trafficking are just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’