Warring gangs have taken over several neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince for weeks, going door-to-door, raping women and girls, killing men, beheading many adults, and then forcing new orphaned children into their ranks.
One woman, Kennedy Charles, hid with her 4-month-old baby under the bed, waiting for the fighting to calm down. She never did and ran away, crossing gang checkpoints with her son raised above her head, like a white human flag.
This week marks a year since Haitian President Jovenel Moise was murdered at his home in one of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods as dozens of police officers stepped aside, letting the killers pass. Many Haitians had no love for the unpopular president, but they believed that his assassination would be the country’s new rock bottom and believed they could start to rise again.
Instead, the picture remains bleak with the emergence of chaos prevailing in parts of the country.
Mr. Moïse was murdered in a sprawling plot that captured former Colombian soldiers, United States Drug Enforcement Administration informants, and American citizens. One of the main suspects in the murder is expected to stand trial in Florida. The international community promised to help solve the president’s murder case and prevent crime from contributing to the mountain of impunity that has plagued Haiti for centuries.
But the many questions about Mr. Moyes’ murder remained unanswered, contributing to the collapse of the central government and the growing dominance of multiple gangs.
The violence that recently rocked Mrs. Charles’ slum for nearly two weeks in May is a sign of how brutal life can be for many Haitians.
“I don’t see any future in Haiti for my children,” said Ms. Charles, 37. “Even feeding them is a struggle.” Her eldest daughter Charnaid, 9, sat nervously beside her mother, her shoulder-length braids adorned with lavender-colored beads.
When Mrs. Charles was finally able to return to her neighborhood on the outskirts of the Haitian capital, the entire group of houses where her house once stood were burnt down. The bodies of at least 91 victims were lying in the streets or in their homes, while the attack left at least 158 children orphaned, many of whom were then recruited by gangs, according to the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, Port-au-Prince. – Rights-based monitoring.
Like many Haitians, Ms. Charles worries that if Mr. Moyes can’t deliver true justice, what chance will she have of living a decent life in a country with some of the highest rates of inequality in the world?
“I live in a country where the president was murdered,” said Mrs. Charles. “If something like that could happen to a president with all this security, what about me in my house? What about me walking the streets? What about my kids?”
Two investigations into Mr. Moyes’ assassination, one by the Haitian government and one by the United States, led to several arrests.
In Haiti, the suspects imprisoned in the assassination have not been brought to trial – including 18 former Colombian soldiers considered by many to be pawns in the conspiracy. The judges and legal staff in the case were threatened and asked to change witness testimony.
One of the main suspects in the assassination – Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry – expelled the government officials who had summoned him for questioning in the case. The prime minister denied any wrongdoing.
A separate investigation led by the US government yielded no answers and instead raised suspicions of a link between the killers and US intelligence agencies, including the chief CIA suspect, Mario Palacios, a former Colombian soldier, who was extradited to Florida. In January to stand trial.
The Ministry of Justice stunned observers when I asked the court in Miami Upon hearing of Mr. Palacios’ case, he appointed a “secret information security officer” to prevent the suspect’s testimony from being made public because he had an undisclosed connection to US intelligence agencies.
The DEA refused to answer questions about several of the Haitian suspects in the case who served as informants for the agency. In May , The Senate Judiciary Committee reprimanded the DEA for not responding to inquiries regarding its conduct in Haiti.
Justice has also been elusive for the 18 former Colombian soldiers imprisoned in Haiti. They complained of torture at the hands of the Haitian police, lack of food and access to bathrooms or showers. The judge in their case has been changed five times and the Colombians have not seen a lawyer after 12 months in prison.
The Haitian justice minister did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“They were not even heard by a judge, and they were not charged,” said Diana Arbelais, the wife of one of the accused ex-soldiers.
“There is no evidence, because if they had it, they would have been accused,” she added.
Ms. Arbelais said she and other wives sent food packages to their husbands in prison, including bags to defecate in, because they were rarely allowed to use the toilets, and they spent a lot of time on the floors of their cell.
Sandra Bonilla, whose husband was also one of 18 Colombian prisoners, traveled to Haiti to see her husband late last year and said she saw signs of torture, including festering wounds and missing teeth.
The Colombian government maintains that because the alleged crimes related to ex-soldiers took place in Haiti, they should be tried there, not Colombia.
Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez said in an interview that the administration was eager to prosecute the accused, blaming Haiti’s faltering justice system for leaving the men in limbo. Planning to visit the men in prison.
In Haiti, the violence that has haunted Haitians hit the country’s largest court last month, when a gang seized the judicial palace and set files on fire. A month later, the gang still occupied the court.
For Mrs. Charles, her family’s only stroke of luck was that she sent her three older children out of the neighborhood just days before the attack began on May 1. Their schools were closed throughout April due to violence and she was worried about boredom. It will make them easy prey for gangs.
The violence that engulfed Mrs. Charles’ neighborhood was part of a wave that consumed much of Port-au-Prince in April and May, displacing 16,000 people as internal refugees, according to the United Nations. The organization added that gang violence has forced 1,700 schools to close in and around the capital, leaving nearly 500,000 children out of their classrooms. Some schools have been targeted by gangs who are looking for students to kidnap for ransom.
“Extreme violence has been reported, including beheadings, dismemberment, cremation, and the killing of minors accused of serving as informants for a rival gang,” The United Nations said in May.
“Sexual violence, including the gang rape of children as young as ten, has been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rival gangs,” the UN added.
Many aid groups say they have had difficulties implementing their programs because of the violence, or because gangs demand bribes to operate on their territory. When they can enter the neighborhoods they see the children struggling.
said Giudice Jonathas, senior program director for Mercy Corps in Haiti, one of the largest aid groups operating in the country. “It’s a big risk, they’re a big draw for gangs.”
A few weeks after Mr. Moyes was killed, a powerful earthquake shook the country, killing more than 2,000 people.
“It’s multiple crises in Haiti,” said Mr. Jonathas. “Can you imagine a child growing up in Haiti today, what kind of options will be available to him in the future? What kind of people would they be?”
André Poultry contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Genevieve Glatsky and Sophia Villamel contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.