Haitians face horrifying violence as gangs run out of local authorities' control NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald about the spike in gang violence in Haiti and what it means for schools and hospitals.

Haitians face horrifying violence as gangs run out of local authorities' control

Haitians face horrifying violence as gangs run out of local authorities' control

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NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald about the spike in gang violence in Haiti and what it means for schools and hospitals.

Please be advised that this piece contains description of violence that some listeners may find disturbing.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Gang violence is now pushing thousands of people to abandon their homes in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. It's forcing schools and hospitals to close. And this new surge comes less than a year after the brutal assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Jacqueline Charles reports on Haiti for the Miami Herald and joins us now. And we should warn listeners that some of the details of this violence may be disturbing to hear. Welcome, Jacqueline.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So can you just describe for us what it is like to live in Port-au-Prince right now? Like, how dangerous is it?

CHARLES: Well, you know, the problem with Port-au-Prince is that it is very dangerous. You know, kidnappings are rampant. They have continued unabated. As I am speaking to you now, there are currently three physicians who are currently being held in captivity. Hospitals are closed because of, you know, the protests. In addition to these doctors, a schoolgirl was recently kidnapped in the last couple of days and also an employee of the United Nations. Day by day, the safe space, if we can call it, it's just getting smaller because potentially anybody can become a victim. The economy is in shatters, not just in Port-au-Prince but throughout the country. We have a new phenomenon that's happening where people are seeking to escape. They're getting on boats. And we are currently undergoing the largest Haitian migration crisis or refugee crisis in nearly two decades.

CHANG: Wow. Horrible. Well, how much hope is there right now that the police will eventually be able to contain this violence? I mean, what actions are being taken by not only the police but by other officials?

CHARLES: The situation is volatile. On April 22, we saw a gang clash that took place just east of the capital of Port-au-Prince. And that went on essentially for two weeks. And as a result, you know, the U.N. says that 75 people were killed. A local human rights group in Port-au-Prince, they put the number at a minimum 148. People were not just killed. They were sliced up, body parts were dropped into, you know, wells and latrines to basically get rid of any evidence of this happening. Children have not been able to go to school.

There's a calm, but some people will tell you that calm isn't necessarily because the police went in and shut it down or arrested the gangs. I mean, they have been trying the best that they can. But, you know, it seems the situation has bypassed them. Go back to last year when you had five police officers who went into one of these slums, a, quote-unquote, "kidnapping lair," till this day, their bodies have not been recovered. And they went in in armored vehicles to confront the gangs. So under these kinds of circumstances, people are just looking to say, when will things change? How will they change? And right now, it's just - hope is very hard to find.

CHANG: Well, for those who do not want to remain in Haiti, you mentioned the mass exodus right now, where are they generally trying to go?

CHARLES: So it's a very interesting, you know, exodus that's happening. Those with passports and visas, they are traveling to the Dominican Republic. Some are even coming to the United States because legally they can do so, right? They're taking a break, or in the case of the Dominican Republic, they're moving themselves, their families, their businesses. But what you also have is those who don't have visas, who don't have legal documents to travel, and they're getting on boats and they are trying to get to Puerto Rico and they're trying to get to the Florida Keys. Since November, we've had five boatloads of Haitian migrants that have successfully made it through the Florida Straits to land in the Florida Keys. It's the first time in years that that has happened. And every week, we're getting reports from the U.S. Coast Guard of Haitians being stopped at sea.

CHANG: That is Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. Thank you very much for your reporting and for your time today.

CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

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