A gang vying for control of a swath of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, opened fire on Saturday on protesters organized by a church leader, killing at least seven people, human rights groups said. The outburst of violence points to escalating violence around the city.
“This shooting is symptomatic of the state’s inability to protect its citizens,” said Gédéon Jean, executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, or CARDH, an independent Haitian group that consults for the United Nations. As the authorities and rights groups examined the aftermath of the shooting, Mr. Jean said that the death toll could increase because of the large concentration of people at the demonstration, some of whom had been wielding machetes.
The killings reflect the sharp increase in violence in Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, which created a power vacuum in the already unstable Caribbean nation. Since then, gangs — whose tactics include random killings, rape and kidnappings — have taken over large parts of the capital. In response, a citizens “self-defense” movement has coalesced, unleashing a wave of gruesome executions of suspected gang members.
The shooting unfolded in Canaan, a squatter community on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts formed by survivors of the devastating 2010 earthquake, in response to a protest organized by an evangelical church leader known as Pastor Marco. Before the shooting, the worshipers were demonstrating against an organization known as the “5 Seconds” gang, which holds sway in Canaan.
A spokesman for Haiti’s National Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the episode.
Marie Yolène Gilles, director of the human rights group Open Eyes Foundation, said that Pastor Marco, whose full name is Marcorel Zidor, leads the Pool of Bethesda evangelical church in Port-au-Prince, and is known for “rhetoric that calls for violence.”
“The faithful believed what he was saying, and they took to the streets with machetes and sticks,” Ms. Gilles added.
Amid the breakdown in security in Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti recently ordered the departure of nonemergency government personnel from the country. Haitian aid groups backed by the International Rescue Committee also said this month that they were temporarily halting operations, citing the violence.
In a potential bid to ease the crisis, Kenya’s government has said that it was prepared to lead a multinational force to assert order in Haiti, including 1,000 Kenyan police officers. The Bahamas has also pledged to send 150 security personnel to support such an effort. The United States said this month that it would put forward before the U.N. Security Council a resolution authorizing the Kenyan force.
Still, doubts have emerged about the Kenyan proposal, underscoring wariness about the effectiveness of such efforts in Haiti, following a deadly cholera outbreak that was connected to infected sewage from U.N. peacekeepers sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Other concerns involve human rights violations by Kenyan peacekeeping missions in Africa and reports that a Kenyan force could be limited to guarding key government infrastructure like airports and main roads.
An update this month from the United Nations on Haiti’s security crisis provided grim details about some of the challenges on the ground, after alleged gang members fatally shot a municipal representative, his wife and child in the Decayette neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
They were apparently targeted in retaliation for the municipal representative’s support of a local vigilante group created to confront the gangs, said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva. Just hours before those killings, five men and two women from the same family were burned alive when their home was set on fire on Aug. 14 by gang members, she added.
More than 350 people have been killed by local people and vigilante groups since April, said Ms. Shamdasani, including 310 suspected gang members, 46 members of the public and a police officer.
Some 5,000 people have fled just this month from areas in the capital rife with gang activity.
Simon Romero reported from Mexico City, and Andre Paulte from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.