Haitian police briefly lose control of armored car

By EVENS SANON AND MEGAN JANETSKY from the Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Just weeks after the United States and Canada sent a fleet of armored vehicles to Haiti to keep gangs at bay, Haitian police briefly lost control of one of the cars in an incident that left at least two people dead, officials said.

Police officers in an armored vehicle patrol the Varreux fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Authorities seemed to have gained control of the key fuel terminal a day after a powerful gang leader announced that he was lifting a blockade that has strangled Haiti’s capital for nearly two months. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The incident speaks to the difficult path ahead for the Caribbean country paralyzed by gang warfare and struggling with its worst crisis in years.

A police station in the south of Haiti was overtaken by gangs Thursday morning, police said in a local radio broadcast. When authorities sent reinforcements in armored vehicles to control the gangs, police claim one of the vehicles broke down.

But officials within Haiti with direct knowledge of the situation said the car got caught in a sand trap and was assaulted by minors wielding Molotov cocktails, said Renata Segura, deputy director of Latin America and Caribbean for International Crisis Group.

Segura, who tracks Haiti for the nongovernmental organization that tries to prevent or resolve conflict, said she was not authorized to reveal the identity of the official.

Police fled the vehicle in an attempt to avoid an armed conflict, she said, and a video confirmed by The Associated Press shows young men surrounding the tan vehicle labeled “POLICE” while firing automatic weapons in the air, cheering and recording video on their phones.

The armored vehicle was part of a fleet sent by the U.S. and Canada last month after being purchased by Haitian officials for an unconfirmed amount. It was part of an effort by the two countries that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said would help “cut the insecurity knot” that has allowed gangs to create a humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

Police eventually regained control of the vehicle and the police station later in the day, but it ended in two alleged gang members dead and two police officers shot.

The incident comes a few days after the country’s biggest gang and its leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer nicknamed “Barbecue,” lifted a blockade of the country’s main fuel depot in Port-au-Prince.

The blockade deepened turmoil in Haiti, which has been reeling since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The chaos has spurred on a huge migratory exodus from the island.