By Onz Chery | firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a developing story being updated as new information becomes available.
UPDATED STORY (4/2/2021, 12:00 p.m.) — When they heard the gang members’ gunshots, some men quickly climbed onto the rooftops or bolted through the streets of Bel Air, Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Two women ran behind homes, but gang members spotted them and fired a shot. The gun misfired. The gangsters also attempted to shoot a man atop a house nearby, but missed.
The two women kept fleeing, along with many others. As they fled, they saw people getting shot or struck with machetes.
“They tore Bel Air apart. They’re evil,” said the escapee that the bandits tried to shoot, in tears. “They tore us apart. I never thought Bel Air would’ve ended up like this. Where am I going to go?”
Speaking with The Haitian Times shortly after escaping, the woman and another resident asked that their names not be used for fear of retribution.
In separate interviews, both said Thursday’s confrontation was the latest attempt in three days by gangs to take over their neighborhood. After being kicked out of the area Tuesday and Wednesday, the gangs came back in higher numbers, seeking revenge. They shot several people, raped women and girls taken hostage and set homes on fire.
On Tuesday, many residents fought back with rocks, glass bottles and other makeshift weapons as the gang members invaded — leading to at least one death.
Officials have yet to provide a tally of people presumed dead or homes set on fire Thursday. However, one resident interviewed said he knew of at least one neighbor who was killed. Pierre Espérance, director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), also said Thursday in media interviews that many had died.
Human rights advocates and residents have accused the government of ordering the police force not to respond when violent takeovers occur. Espérance has said after previous gang altercations that they are often politically motivated.
“The insecurity we have in Haiti is organized by the government itself to build fear within the people,” Espérance has said. “They want the bandits to have control over the impoverished neighborhood so they can win the next elections.”
Gangs also burned down houses in Bel Air in late August and in October of last year, killing at least 22 people and burning down at least 20 homes, according to local reports.
With no police in sight, residents fight back
This week’s series of invasions started Tuesday, according to two residents. Members of the G9 gang and another called Spit Fire went to Bel Air to try to take control over the neighborhood, residents said. G9 is led by Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, the accused criminal sanctioned last year for participating in a massacre in La Saline in 2018.
Cherizier has denied that the G9 attempted to take control over Bel Air in a press conference Friday. He said a crew from Bel Air, funded by the opposition, had been going to neighborhoods where G9 members reside since Tuesday to fire gunshots. The G9 didn’t fight back until the Bel Air crew shot six of their members dead Thursday, Cherizier added.
“For every action there’s a reaction,” Cherizier said. “Tell them to stop shooting at Saint Martin [Road], at Delmas 2, at people in Bawozi then I will guarantee you guys that you will never hear a gunshot in Bel Air again.”
On the other side of the story, a Bel Air resident said when G9 and Spit Fire members came to Bel Air to try to take over, they threw rocks and glass bottles at the gang members Tuesday. One gang member was killed in that skirmish, the resident said.
“We’re not going to accept people to kick us out and occupy the area for political reasons,” said one man, who chose not to give his name. “Yes, I participated in the battle, it’s our duty.”
The gang members went to Bel Air again on Wednesday and were attacked with rocks and glass bottles once more.
On Thursday, the gang members took a shortcut that leads to a set of homes and they came in higher numbers. Caught off guard, the Bel Air residents started fleeing. The bandits murdered or maimed some, took others hostage and set homes on fire as the attack occurred between 3 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Police did not report to the scene, even though Bel Air is only about half a mile from the heavily-guarded National Palace. In the August massacre, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said the police didn’t intervene because “there could [had] been collateral victims.”
After the August and October massacre, residents left homeless slept in parks and with relatives. They said they didn’t receive any assistance from the government. They relied on funds from the diaspora, some of whom set up a GoFundMe, and Haiti based groups like MTVAyiti for essentials.
Many residents had no other choice but to go back to Bel Air, they said. After Thursday’s massacre, some plan to return to Bel Air.
“They won a battle today but not the war,” said the man who fought back Tuesday. “We’re not going to hand Bel Air over to bandits.”