Here are excerpts from “‘Luck and God’: How Haitians survive gang violence, kidnappings in their nation’s capital” (Miami Herald) by Jacqueline Charles. [The article includes a short video report by José A. Iglesias on gangsterism in various neighborhoods: “How Haiti’s police are outgunned by kidnapping gangs.” The image above is a still from the documentary.]
This teeming Caribbean capital, with its hair-raising traffic, army of sidewalk vendors and once vibrant nightlife, is now a metropolis that lives only by daylight. People leave home only after sunrise and hurry back before sundown. They lumber along traffic-clogged main roads rather than take shortcuts, and zip through empty streets at top speeds. Instead of driving to the beach, they go to hotel pools — preferably one close to home. “Even in the daylight, there’s still a high risk,” said Cédrice Joseph, 18, attending his high school graduation from Lycée Alexandre Dumas at the Karibe Hotel in Petionville in late June. “I won’t say it’s safer at day than at night; really, it’s anytime you go out or are at home.”
Following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse a year ago, the private international school, more commonly known as Lycée Français and run in conjunction with the French ministry of education, closed its doors and went indefinitely on remote learning due to security concerns. Those concerns have only deepened during the past year amid reports of students and parents elsewhere being kidnapped and held hostage by gangs demanding ransom.
“It’s been pretty hard knowing that sometimes you can’t go to school, or you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to come to school and learn … or if today is your last, or if you’re going to get kidnapped every time you’re in the streets,” said Joseph, dressed in his cap and gown. Describing what living in a captive country is like, he said, “It’s luck and God.” As kidnappings spike and gangs extend and tighten their grip on metropolitan Port-au-Prince — after seizing the main courthouse in downtown last month, gangs now have their sights on the ports — Haitians are increasingly feeling helpless.
Some people are taking steps to protect themselves, though they are not cheap and are psychologically taxing. Rottweilers are priced at $1,500 a pop, and armed guards are big business. So too are armored cars for those who can afford them. For those who can’t, even the most mundane of errands here have now become a perilous exercise in risks and distance.
“You are risking your life out here,” said Edy Remy, 53, a lone vendor on a sidewalk in Pacot, the residential neighborhood south of downtown where he supports his four children by selling bread. Remy says it’s easy to become discouraged with Haiti’s descent into the abyss and change “for the worse” as it becomes marred by the kind of violence he didn’t see even during the days when dictators ruled the country. [. . .]
Ransom demands, according to a report by the human rights center, go as high as $1 million. Though families end up negotiating down, kidnappings are still “a highly profitable criminal enterprise,” the report’s author, Gédéon Jean, noted. [. . .]
While people in other countries hole up in their homes because of COVID-19, Haitians note that in their case it’s been due to a different kind of pandemic. Kidnappings and intentional homicides, according to the United Nations’ Haiti office, have risen by 36% and 17% respectively, compared with the last five months of 2021. In May alone, the Haitian National Police reported 200 kidnappings, an average of almost 7 cases per day. A report by the local Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, which monitors kidnappings, says the total for the year has already surpassed 290. The spike in crime comes on top of double-digit inflation that has been rising month after month, chronic fuel shortages, soaring prices and political paralysis that has deepened after the assassination of Moïse. [. . .]
[Shown above: 1) A still from “How Haiti’s police are outgunned by kidnapping gangs”; 2) “Graduates of Lycée Alexandre Dumas toss their caps in the air on June 23, 2022, as they celebrate their graduation at the Karibe Hotel in Petionville after spending their final year learning online.” Both images by Jose A. Iglesias firstname.lastname@example.org.]