As Haitian gangs expand control, policeman’s family is in shock

As Haitian gangs expand control, policeman’s family is in shock

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Every day, as the husband of Daniel Marie Carmel put on his bulletproof vest and headed out the door for another day of fighting Haitian gangs, she wondered if he would come home that night.

Friday was the day her smiling husband of 18 years, Ricken Staniclasse, didn’t.

One of the country’s nearly 200 gangs ambushed his police unit that morning, sending gunshots echoing through the streets in an unexpected area: a mansion-lined stretch of the country’s capital, Port-Au-Prince.

A gang led by Lionel Lazarre battled the police patrol in sweltering Caribbean heat as officers desperately called for backup. But help never came, the country’s police union said.

The clashes killed three officers, hospitalized a fourth with gunshot wounds and left 44-year-old Staniclasse missing.

Meanwhile, Carmel was terrified for her and her three children.

“My husband fought a lot with the gangs and we don’t know what could happen to us,” said Carmel, 43, as she huddled on her red sofa surrounded by neighbors. “I can’t sleep at home anymore because I don’t know what can happen to us.”

The shooting was just the latest example of how Haitian gangs have gained power and expanded, leaving much of the population in terror.

While the United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-Au-Prince is controlled by gangs, today most Haitians on the street estimate that figure is closer to 100%.

Haiti has battled endemic gang violence for years, but the country plunged into lawlessness after the 2021 assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse.

Powerful gangs have taken advantage of the political chaos and discontent with the current government led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry to further consolidate their control.

The government has failed to ease the violence, forcing many to flee their homes. News of rapes, kidnappings and police ambushes have become the new norm.

Jolicoeur Allande Serge, director of the police unit that was attacked, said Friday’s bombing in the Petion-Ville neighborhood was a sign of that. He noted that moving to upper-class areas “benefits the economic interests (of the gangs).”

Kidnappings and ransoms of up to $1 million have been a key part of financing these armed groups.

Meanwhile, police units are struggling to keep up.

While Canada and the United States have sent armored vehicles and other supplies to Haiti, law enforcement officials say it’s only a fraction of what they really need.

Tensions remained high on Saturday, and in the afternoon Serge was among a group of armored trucks dented by bullet holes. Officers with automatic weapons, their faces covered by black masks, bustled.

A group of 50 officers were returning to the area where they fought Friday night to try to break a gang blockade and search for the missing officer, Staniclasse.

“I lost three men… We are not afraid. We are frustrated because we don’t have enough equipment to fight,” Serge said as he watched a convoy of police trucks leave the station. “We need ammunition, helmets, armored vehicles.”

Analysts expect the bloodshed to worsen, especially after Haiti’s last 10 elected officials ended their terms in the Senate in early January, leaving parliament and the presidency vacant because the government failed to hold elections.

Critics say that has turned Haiti into a “de facto dictatorship.”

Meanwhile, people like Daniel Marie Carmel feel that the hope of their country is running out. Carmel said that her husband always had hope that he could help clean up the city of her. Together, they built a home and a life together. Her 11-year-old son dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps.

“He loved people, he loved helping people,” she said of her husband.

But two years ago, the violence began to get so bad in their neighborhood that they applied for a visa to immigrate to the United States, hoping to join an exodus of people leaving Haiti. They never got an answer.

“I don’t know if he’s dead or alive, but I’m worried,” she said. “If we could get out of the country, my husband would be alive.”

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