By Milo Milfort
Port-au-Prince, Mar 12 (EFE).- More than 1,500 people, most of them women or children, are living in horrible conditions in four camps for displaced persons in Poste-Marchand as a result of the new wave of violence Haiti is experiencing due to the ongoing “war” between gangs in the Bel-air district of Port-au-Prince, just a short distance from the National Palace.
The desire to take over new “turf” is the rationale behind the gangs’ internecine struggle, but the violence is driving local residents from their homes en masse and forcing them to gather in camps without any basic services.
According to the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), these new clashes, which broke out in late February, have taken more than 60 lives, aggravating the already critical situation that Haiti is enduring on all levels.
In addition, some 50 people are missing in the violence.
Hundreds of homes have been burned down and many people have lost all their belongings.
“I lost everything I had on Tiremasse Street (in Bel-air). They burned down my house,” Marie-Ange Jules, a disabled 75-year-old mother of seven, told EFE.
In the Poste-Marchand displaced persons camp, not far from the conflict zone near Haitian capital’s main square, the Champ de Mars, adults of all ages have gathered, some of them disabled, along with their children and newborns.
They say they feel like they’ve been forgotten by the authorities, who are doing nothing to restore peace in the residential areas.
The people in the camp place sheets on the ground to mark out their territory, as more and more people are arriving from different zones in Port-au-Prince.
“You need to come here at night to see the real number of people who are here. They’re sleeping like sardines,” an elderly lady told EFE.
Members of the Haitian diaspora, artists and young people’s committees within the Poste-Marchand neighborhood formed to manage the various camps are being asked to help feed the displaced people.
Dressed completely in white, Yvonne Pierre (a pseudonym) is inconsolable. Gang members took her only son and killed him by cutting him into pieces while he was still alive on March 3.
Pierre raised her son “alone, without his father. I spent all my money on him. I went through many problems and humiliations to be able to raise him,” said the woman, whose story is well-known to all those in the camp.
“It was the clashes that brought me here. I lost my son in the fighting,” Geralda, 67, said unable to continue the interview after remarking, while crying, “Every time I talk about him, things come into my head.”
Jimmy Cherisier, alias Barbecue, the former police officer who heads the armed G9 coalition, is known for committing atrocities that flirt with the unthinkable, according to people driven from their homes.
Elderly women thrown into fiery tanks, homes burned down with people inside, people cut into pieces … Nobody gets away. And the fury of the gangs knows no limits.
“How far can this situation go? There are no authorities in the country that can help us. It’s like there’s a plot to eliminate us,” Yvonne Pierre said.
This week, in a statement announcing the temporary closing of one of the hospitals in another conflict zone, Doctors Without Borders said that the number of victims is rising at its urgent care center located a few kilometers from Bel-air, which every day is admitting up to 10 times more gunshot victims than the average.
“Since they resumed fighting in Bel-air, on Tuesday Feb. 28, we’ve received many children, women and old people, collateral victims of the fighting,” the hospital’s chief physician, Dr. Frandy Samson, said.
It’s difficult to say how many people have been wounded in other parts of the city, since many people are “terrorized and prefer not to leave their neighborhoods,” he added.
Several of the displaced people said that National Police tanks have been used in the fighting alongside certain armed groups, In fact, Pierre said, after his death her son’s body was burned by men in a police tank that allegedly came to the scene to provide security to the local residents.
“With the tanks, the Haitian state is allying itself with the gangs to sow pain in the country. The merciless and the soulless are coming in the tanks,” said the woman, who is not receiving any kind of psychosocial support.
According to the RNDDH human rights defense organizations, the two sides in the conflict are each receiving support from fragments of the state-level authorities.