- Haiti’s Carnival celebration in the country’s capital of Port-au-Prince was disrupted for hours on Sunday as armed and masked, plain-clothed police officers protested their pay and poor working conditions.
- The officers didn’t hold up placards with catchy phrases during their demonstration. Instead, they opened fire at the army. Some protesters had semi-automatic weapons, others carried machetes.
- One soldier was killed in the clash and several police officers were injured.
- The deadly protest brought an end to Carnival, the biggest celebration in Haiti.
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A deadly gun battle erupted in Haiti over the weekend during a protest for better pay and working conditions.
Masked plain-clothed police officers took to the streets on the first day of Haiti’s carnival celebration in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, and fired at the army as they tried to stop the armed protesters who timed their demonstration to the beginning of Carnival “to criticize the government’s spending priorities.”
“No money for police officers but enough money for Carnival,” protesters, officers of Haiti’s National Police, shouted, The Guardian reported. “It was the final straw.”
The gun battle, which started around noon, went on for hours outside of the country’s presidential palace, and left one soldier dead as well as at least three police officers wounded, according to the Guardian.
Later that evening, the Haitian government announced Carnival, which gathers thousands of people for the three-day event, was canceled to “avoid a bloodbath,” according to a government statement released Sunday. “Terror reigned in certain areas. Streets were obstructed and there was a war-like situation at the Champ de Mars (square), where heavy weapons fire was heard almost all day.”
Here’s how a day marked for celebration turned violent.
At about 12 p.m., on Sunday, February 23, a gun battle broke out in Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince, as dozens of armed and masked men, who said they were police, protested for better work conditions.
Since the end of last year, Haitian police officers have been demonstrating against poor working conditions, better pay, and the ability to unionize. Matters escalated about a month ago when six officers were fired after they tried to join a union.
In recent months, Haiti, the poorest country in the Carribean, has experienced a break out in gang wars, a spike in kidnappings, and, according to The Guardian, 3.7 million residents are in need of urgent food assistance.
Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise has been unable to improve the country’s conditions, these protests weren’t directly aimed at him. But they did stem from the country’s sweeping unrest over Haiti’s weak economy.
Things escalated on Sunday afternoon as Carnival, a “three-day raucous event,” according to Time, was due to begin. Carnival and its funding were the “final straw” for protestors.
As armed, plain-clothed officers, and their supporters took to the streets, they shouted, “No money for police officers but enough money for carnival.”
Source: The Guardian
The procession headed towards the presidential palace but was interrupted outside the army’s headquarters. The army was only recently reformed in 2017, after being disbanded in 1995, when Haiti’s dictatorship fell.
It’s not entirely clear, but reports said that the two factions started shooting at each other after officers fired into the sky.
Source: The Guardian
Gunfire was exchanged for hours. At one point, a drone was spotted taking photos of the battle. Officers followed the drone back to Radio Caraibes, a broadcaster, and opened fire on the building. There have been no reports of anyone being hurt there.
Source: ABC News
It wasn’t just police and soldiers that were fighting. Protesters, armed with machetes, showed their support.
Young people joined in, too.
More officers, wielding semi-automatic weapons, joined the gun battle, which lasted until about 6 p.m.
At least three police officers were injured, and one soldier was killed.
By Sunday evening, the Haitian government announced Carnival was canceled to “avoid a bloodbath.”
The Haitian government released a statement that said the attacks were an attack against freedom and democracy, according to The New York Times.
Source: The New York Times
That wasn’t how police officers saw their demonstration, though. A gunman in a black-and-white clown mask told a reporter they wanted their fired colleagues reinstated, and a pay rise for all police officers. He spoke anonymously, because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.
While Sunday’s deadly gunfight eventually ended, the struggle continues between police and the Haitian government to meet the officers’ demands. “Until this is done we will not sit and talk,” a protestor said. “The president has proven that he does not care about our demands.”
Sources: ABC News