Witnesses: Pre-election violence flaring up in Haiti slum
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Deadly pre-election violence has flared up in and around Haiti’s most notorious slum and resulted in the killings of two pregnant women and at least 13 other people in the densely-populated district of shacks, community organizers and politicians said Monday.
Official numbers of the slain around the mazelike network of Cite Soleil were hard to pin down. Spokespeople with the Haitian National Police and the U.N. mission in Haiti did not respond to Monday phone calls or said they did not immediately have specifics.
But Esau Bouchard, a government-appointed mayor in Cite Soleil, said at least 10 people were killed within the district’s boundaries over the last few days and another eight or nine people that he described as gangsters were gunned down in shootouts with police in an outskirts community known as Wharf Jeremie. He told Radio Solidarite that the violence appeared to be politically motivated.
According to Bouchard, authorities were trying to capture gang members creating mayhem “so we can create a secure climate for elections to happen” in the deeply impoverished ghetto of a few hundred thousand people. Some 2,000 people fled their homes out of fear starting Friday, but he said that a measure of order was gradually being restored.
The deadly violence in the long-troubled community on the edge of Port-au-Prince comes days ahead of national elections on Sunday when Haitians will vote in the first-round of presidential balloting and decide numerous legislative races. About a month ago, police said two officers were slain by gangsters in Cite Soleil.
Musician and social activist Gueldy Rene, who is from the Bwa Nef neighborhood where much of the violence was centered over the weekend, told The Associated Press that politically-aligned gangs were feuding over money distributed by political teams looking to dominate Sunday’s balloting in the vote-heavy district.
“This is Haiti politics. Some politician gives out money and now gangs are killing people over that money,” he said, complaining that police and U.N. troops were “sitting around listening to gunshots” at the height of the violence rather than trying to stop the bloodshed.
Jessica Hsu, country director for Haiti Communitere, a nonprofit that works with Cite Soleil residents, said the area’s struggling inhabitants were again being used as “pawns by politicians” engaged in electoral turf wars.
“In the context of Haitian elections, this is what happens every time here,” said Hsu, whose group has been working in Haiti since the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.