Haiti: Thousands of inmates escape in double jailbreaks

Haiti has declared a three-day state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew following a series of attacks by armed gangs on the country’s two largest jails after two jailbreaks. The assaults resulted in the escape of over 3,000 dangerous criminals, including murderers and kidnappers, posing a severe security threat to the impoverished and violence-stricken Caribbean nation.

Finance Minister Patrick Boisvert, overseeing matters in the absence of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, announced the emergency measures, emphasizing that the police would employ “all legal means at their disposal” to recapture the escaped prisoners and enforce the curfew. The surge in attacks has been claimed by Jimmy Chérizier, also known as Barbecue, a former elite police officer now leading a gang federation. Chérizier has asserted that the objective is to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers while preventing Henry’s return.

The emergency decree comes in response to a deadly weekend that marked a grim milestone in Haiti’s escalating violence, with at least nine people killed, including four police officers. Targets of the attacks included police stations, the international airport, and the national football stadium, where an employee was held hostage for hours.

The most shocking incident occurred on Saturday when armed gangs stormed the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, allowing nearly all of the estimated 4,000 inmates to escape. The prison, normally overcrowded, appeared eerily empty on Sunday, with no guards in sight and remnants of chaos scattered across the concrete patio. The emergency measures include a curfew to curb further violence and provide authorities with the means to restore order.

While the exact number of escaped inmates after jailbreaks remains uncertain, human rights lawyer Arnel Remy and sources close to the institution suggest that an “overwhelming” majority of them have fled. The prison, designed for 700 prisoners, held 3,687 as of February last year. Among those who chose not to escape are 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of involvement in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

Haiti’s ongoing security challenges have prompted Prime Minister Henry to seek support for a UN-backed security force to stabilize the nation. The Biden administration has expressed grave concern over the deteriorating situation, with the UN emphasizing the urgent need for member nations to deploy a multinational security force to address the escalating violence and protect civilians trapped in the crossfire.

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