PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Angry police officers in Haiti descended on the prime minister’s residence and the country’s main airport Thursday to protest the killings of more than a dozen of their comrades in the past two weeks.
Officers who are believed to have been members of the Haitian National Police gathered outside Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s official residence in Port-au-Prince on Thursday morning, smashed car windows and shot weapons into the courtyard. They did not attack Henry’s living quarters, according to an employee in the prime minister’s office who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive developments.
Security at the residence was minimal, the employee said, because the prime minister and his chief of staff were not present. Still, the attack, coming 18 months after President Jovenel Moïse was shot to death in his home, was ominous.
Later, protesters, some in police uniforms, broke a window at Toussaint Louverture International Airport and trashed an entryway, an airport employee told The Washington Post. Henry, who was returning home from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Argentina, was temporarily impeded from leaving the airport, Reuters reported.
Some 15 officers were killed in a 15-day period this month, according to Lionel Lazarre, coordinator of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers. Six were killed in an attack Wednesday on a police station in Liancourt, a commune in the central department of Artibonite, the Haitian National Police said in a statement. Media here attributed the killings to Gran Grif, an armed gang operating in the area.
“It’s a record to have that many police officers killed in such a short period,” Lazarre said. “Police officers are being hunted by the gangs and are the victims of the climate of insecurity.”
He blamed the government, which he said “doesn’t have a national security plan.”
Police commanders called for calm. But among some rank-and-file officers, fearful and fed up with the government’s failure to restore security, their entreaties fell on deaf ears. Dozens of protesters, including police officers, took to the streets of multiple neighborhoods in the capital to burn tires and block roads.
Gang violence, a chronic challenge here, has surged in the political vacuum left by Moïse’s assassination in July 2021. The departure of Haiti’s last 10 senators when their terms expired this month has left the national government without any democratically elected leaders. What remains of the government is run by Henry, an appointed prime minister who has not set a date for elections, is accused of being a dictator and might have been involved in Moïse’s killing.
Gangs control large swaths of the Haitian capital, where residents live in fear of being kidnapped, raped or killed. Snipers on rooftops have targeted men, women and children, Helen La Lime, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative in Haiti, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. Thousands have been killed in the violence; tens of thousands have been displaced.
The insecurity has obstructed the delivery of vital humanitarian aid in the Western Hemisphere’s most troubled nation. Suspected cases of cholera have soared in the past month, and the U.N. World Food Program warned in October that a record 4.7 million people were facing “acute” levels of hunger. In some areas, La Lime said, gangs have intentionally blocked access to food, water and health care.
Haiti’s leading rights group, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, said 78 police officers have been killed since Henry became prime minister following Moïse’s death. In a statement Thursday, the organization blamed Henry and national police leaders for the deaths under their watch.
In a statement Thursday, the General Management of the National Police said it “notes with bitterness the murderous acts specifically targeting police officers who sacrifice themselves, despite a particularly difficult context to well execute their mission.” The leaders said they had placed the police under a state of maximum alert and directed department heads to summon all officers to their posts.
In October, Henry requested foreign security forces to restore enough order to restart basic services. La Lime reiterated calls for such a deployment to the U.N. Security Council this week.
“Haitians overwhelmingly want this assistance so they can go about their daily lives in peace,” she said.
The United States has voiced support for a “rapid action force” but does not want to spearhead one. The Biden administration has instead asked Canada to take the lead, but the close U.S. ally has reservations of its own. Ottawa has sent missions to Haiti to assess needs, sent armored vehicles to Haitian police and imposed sanctions on individuals it accuses of funding or otherwise supporting the gangs. They have included former members of Henry’s cabinet, former prime ministers and former president Michel Martelly.
But Canadian officials said any military intervention would only come after Haitians themselves reached a political consensus on a way forward. Foreign military intervention is highly controversial in Haiti, which suffers from a long history of destabilizing foreign interference, including by the United States. Skeptics fear an international force would prop up Henry’s government.
The human rights network voiced concern Thursday that officials would use the unrest and violence against police officers to justify the call for foreign military intervention.
Amanda Coletta contributed to this report.