© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

U.N. official warns gangs have created a 'state of terror' in Haiti amid its 'institutional vacuum'

Odelyn Joseph
Haitians protesting in Port-au-Prince last month against the takeover of their neighborhoods by violent street gangs.

After a gang took control of a Port-au-Prince courthouse this week, the U.N.'s top Haiti official is urging more help for the country's threadbare police.

This week, a Haitian gang took control of a judicial courthouse in Port-au-Prince — the latest, stunning display of criminal power that now has the U.N. warning that Haiti has all but fallen into violent anarchy.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Our journalists are continuing to work hard to keep you informed across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

The heavily armed gang that stormed the courthouse is called Senk Segonn (meaning "Five Seconds" in Creole). It’s one of about 10 violent groups that now control more than half of Port-au-Prince and much of the rest of Haiti. They commit an average of seven ransom kidnappings a day. Just last month, they were responsible for some 200 killings.

The lawlessness, and an economic emergency, have prompted the U.N.’s top official in Haiti, Helen la Lime, to declare the country is coming under a “state of terror.” On Thursday La Lime urged the U.N.’s Security Council to muster more aid for Haiti’s threadbare police force.

But she's also cited what she called Haiti’s “institutional vacuum” — the fact that its government has all but collapsed, especially since President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination last year. There is no functioning Parliament there — and no sign from interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry that new elections will be held any time soon.

As a result, more and more desperate Haitians are fleeing the country — and more and more are dying at sea. This week, 11 Haitian women and girls were buried in Puerto Rico after drowning off the island’s coast when their overcrowded boat capsized.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.