The Haitian Christians fed up with daily occurrences of violence, were led by an evangelical pastor and even included Catholic believers. Cheered on by poverty and violence-weary bystanders, hundreds marched with machetes and sticks, challenging a major gang that controls a key suburb of Port-au-Prince.
The Christians chanted “Free Canaan” but were no match for the gangs who responded with rifles and machine guns.
A local human rights group confirmed to Reuters seven deaths but suggested that there may have been up to 20. In the altercation, additional people suffered injuries and were abducted by the gangs. ABC News reports that the Haitian government is investigating the deaths of the Evangelical parishioners.
Since President Jovenel Moise’s murder in 2021 and the ensuing lack of government control, Haitian gangs have increased their dominance over the nation. The G9, G-Pep, Kraze Barye, and 400 Mawozo groups lead a network of mutating alliances made up of some 200 criminal organizations that are battling for control of vital areas of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Police have little resources in this, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and have had a difficult time battling the gangs, many of which are armed with machine guns brought in from Africa.
Last October, Haiti’s government pleaded with the Biden administration and other for immediate international security help. Although many nations have been hesitant to assist a government that is unelected and largely regarded as corrupt, Kenyan officials recently visited Haiti to assess the leadership of such a force. According to PBS News, the Biden administration may authorize a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize such a move.
The Biden administration slapped sanctions on a number of Haitian leaders but has come under criticism for a lack of coherent policy to address numerous other issues.
The United Nations estimates over 2,400 people have been killed this year and about 200,000 are internally displaced. Access to food, healthcare, and humanitarian supplies has been disrupted by the violence. According to the UN, kidnappings and sexual violence—often gang rapes—have become regular.
As a result, thousands have made their way to Mexico, eventually crossing the U.S. southern border.
Many missionary organizations have also pulled out as kidnappings continue of American serving the country.
Some citizens have been intervening on their own. The so-called “Bwa Kale” campaign began in April when gang members were lynched and burned alive by local residents. The CARDH rights organization claims that police assistance was used in other such vigilante killings.
Last Saturday, Pastor Marcorel Zidor, a member of the Evangelical Piscine de Bethesda church, urged his flock to take on a gang that was in charge of the Canaan neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
The following day, adherents of Pastor Edrice, another well-respected local minister, arrived to battle Vitelhomme Innocent, the leader of Kraze Barye, who is wanted in the United States with a $1 million bounty.
Zidor declared to a local radio station on Monday that he would “do it again” despite the fatalities, claiming that those of his supporters who had maintained their faith had escaped the gunfire.
Western governments are watching the groundswell of support among Haitians for confronting the gangs head-on. If the movement within Hait’s Christian community grows, it may prove to be a grassroots solution that works where Haiti’s government has failed, say observers.
–Dwight Widaman and wire services