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Haiti declares state of emergency amid double jailbreak, gang violence

This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024, after a breakout by several thousand inmates.

Luckenson Jean | Afp | Getty Images

A 72-hour state of emergency has been declared in Haiti after armed gangs stormed two of the country’s largest prisons, reportedly allowing thousands of people to escape.

A government statement said two prisons, one in the capital of Port-au-Prince and another in nearby Croix des Bouquets, were overrun by gang members over the weekend, according to multiple media reports.

Nearly all the 4,000 inmates at Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince were thought to have escaped.

CNBC could not independently verify the figures.

Haiti’s government on Sunday imposed a state of emergency and a night-time curfew in an attempt to restore order, with Finance Minister Patrick Boisvert reportedly calling on police to use “all legal means” to recapture the prisoners and enforce the curfew, according to Al Jazeera.

Boisvert is in temporary charge of the Haitian government while Prime Minister Ariel Henry is on an overseas trip to Kenya, looking to rouse support for a U.N.-backed security force to help prop the country after years of deadly gang violence.

Haitian lawyer Arnel Remy, head of the Collective of Lawyers for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti, said in a Google-translated update on the X social media platform that a total of 3,597 prisoners escaped from the National Penitentiary.

This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows people looking at the building of the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024, after a breakout by several thousand inmates.

Luckenson Jean | Afp | Getty Images

The U.N. has warned the Haitian government’s presence “continues to erode,” with lawlessness and extreme gang violence casting a long shadow over everyday life in the crisis-stricken country.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Haiti has faced a multitude of challenges in recent years, “encompassing political, social and economic issues, further exacerbated by recurring natural disasters.”

Security alert

In a Google-translated post on X, one of Haiti’s police unions on Sunday called on all officers in the capital to assist in the battle to regain control of the prison. “No one will be spared in the capital because there will be 3000 extra bandits now effective,” the statement said.

The U.S. embassy in Haiti on Sunday issued a security alert, urging U.S. citizens to leave the country as soon as possible by commercial or other privately available transport options.

The embassy, which on Friday warned of heavy gunfire and traffic disruption near Port-au-Prince airport, said operations would be limited on Monday and that further activity may be affected due to “gang-related violence and its effects on transportation and infrastructure.”

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