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Armed gangs in Haiti trade fire with police and soldiers as civilians cower in fear


Haiti is entering its second day of a state of emergency as gangs vow to topple the government. The country's airport is under siege, and until this hour, it's not clear whether Haiti's de facto prime minister has returned from a trip to Kenya. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The scenes from Haiti look like what we've seen before. Heavily armed gangs trade fire as civilians cower in fear. The gangs set fire to police stations. But there is something different about this latest episode, says Robert Fatton, who studies Haiti at the University of Virginia.

ROBERT FATTON: The violence that occurred was coordinated by the different gangs, so that is a different scale of violence.

PERALTA: The many gangs that control most of Haiti's capitol struck a deal. The full details are unknown. But this violence began days after Haiti's prime minister, Ariel Henry, announced that long-delayed elections wouldn't happen until mid next year. The gangs took to the streets and they unleashed overwhelming violence. They shot at airplanes in what had been Haiti's hardened international airport. And then over the weekend, the gangs attacked the country's two main prisons, killing police officers and allowing thousands of inmates to escape. Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer turned gang leader who is better known as Barbecue, paraded around Port-au-Prince with assault rifles.


BARBECUE: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: He asked the police and military to arrest Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The population is not our enemy, he said, the armed groups are not your enemy. Arrest Ariel Henry, he commanded, for the country's liberation. Ever since Haiti's president was assassinated in 2021, Haiti has been spiraling toward anarchy. Fatton says this could mark the point of no return. The gangs have now acted as one, and the most powerful gang leader is saying the purpose of this violence is to topple the government. And at the moment, Fatton says, it appears Haiti's battered police force seem incapable of stopping them.

FATTON: The situation is on the verge of a real collapse of any and every institution that remain in the country.

PERALTA: Prime Minister Henry was out of the country as the violence peaked. He was in East Africa signing a bilateral agreement that would allow Kenya to lead a multinational force into the country. The peacekeeping mission, which has been hailed by the U.S. as the solution in Haiti, has been delayed by court rulings. But Kenya's president said he hoped this agreement would satisfy the demands of the court. Henry said the agreement was hope.


PRIME MINISTER ARIEL HENRY: It's the last step before the deployment. We hope that the deployment will occur very soon.

PERALTA: Because, he said, the people of Haiti cannot suffer anymore.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.