Why Haiti’s City Center Is at War: Gang Violence and Political Turmoil

Haiti, a nation surrounded by political instability and social unrest for decades, is once again surrounded by chaos as armed gangs take control of its streets. Current events have highlighted the minacious state of affairs in the Caribbean, with an uprising in violence targeting key government institutions and prisons, leaving the country of Haiti with political instability and socio economic hardships.

On Saturday night, March 3, armed gangs revealed a simultaneous attack on two of Haiti’s largest prisons, including the National Penitentiary and the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison causing over 1,000 inmates to escape. The violence left nine individuals dead including four police officers. This event showcased despair and shock throughout the country, highlighting the government’s struggle to keep Haiti under control. 

Haiti was declared a state of emergency as a nighttime curfew was placed in an attempt to alleviate the crisis. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been undergoing immense pressure to resign, sought support from the United Nations Security Council to provide international security support and stabilization. Unfortunately, the disputes Haiti have been facing stretch far beyond just security concerns and measures.

The depth of Haiti’s political predicament stems from its ongoing governmental conflicts, including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 and the subsequent power vacuum. As the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections become delayed, the condition of Haiti’s political future remains unclear.

The ongoing violence is a result of gangs who continue to expose the government’s weaknesses, futher expanding their influence over Haitian society. Jimmy Chérizier, a previous elite police officer also called “Barbecue”, currently runs the notorious gang G-9 and has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks. Barbeque strives to urge Haitians to take action against the government. “We are asking the population to rise up,” he said. These gangs have effectively displayed their wrath and control over many neighborhoods of the capital, as gangs were reported to have up to 80% control of Port-au-Prince. They have been coordinating more attacks that include targeting the Central Bank. As a result, the Haitian police force is heavily outnumbered and overwhelmed.  

Recently, G9 and G-Pep, another Haitian gang led by Gabriel Jean-Pierre, attacked critical infrastructure, including Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. The airport was closed during the attack and no operating planes or passengers were present, but caused foreign governments to issue travel advisories. The Biden administration expressed concerns over the security situation, and has abstained from committing troops to aid the situation. Instead, the administration has decided to provide help through financial and logistical support.

As Haiti attempts to diminish reoccurring violence, the path to stabilize and recover the country remains a challenge. The government’s ability to restore law and order in handling the root causes of the situation will be pivotal in reassuring the country’s future. At present, national turmoil continuously reigns over the Haitian people as they hope for a brighter future of peace, prosperity, and security.  

After the 72-hour state of emergency and nighttime curfew were imposed in response to the surging violence, Haiti implemented new steps to obtain stability and control of Port- Au-Prince. The Haitian government ordered police officers to apprehend all offenders that escaped prison, prioritizing efforts to improve law enforcement and relieve gang violence. Prime Minister Ariel Henry recognizes that implementing long-term development strategies and tactical security measures, countering recent events, serve as important measures to ensure Haiti’s safety in the future. 

Photo credit:

Haitians urgently collect their belongings in preparation to flee their homes on March 3, escaping the rising violence in the capital Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

Written by Research and Development Intern, Arianna Hutcheson