Carrefour-Leaves. It’s such a lovely name for a historic neighborhood in central Port-au-Prince. A neighborhood which, like many others in the Haitian capital, has suffered since mid-August from the fury of gangs who have taken power over the city, leading to the flight of a terrorized population. It’s such a pretty name, very close to another neighborhood called Bas Peu de Choses, which Dany Laferrière often talks about. It is a neighborhood very close to the Fokal Foundation, the cultural heart of the city, which must adapt its activities to the threats shouted by gang leaders.
It is a terrible reality that Haitians in the city and its surroundings are left to these over-armed delinquents who shoot, rape, set fires without faith or law, without ideology or cause to defend. A situation that the power in place cannot control.
“When I looked yesterday afternoon at the people of Carrefour-Feuilles fleeing their homes, my heart was broken. This street which has always rocked me with tenderness today bears the marks of deep wounds which will not heal soon. Stunned and fearful children. Women with eyes full of all the sorrows of the world. The smell of fresh blood on the bodies of men and women more thirsty than ever for rest. Pitiful spectacle. Here, the abyss is just a stone's throw away and death within headshot. Everyone is trying to escape the murderous bullets of the brainless bosses who are fighting against everything. »
This beautiful text by the fighter of letters Clément Benoit II describes his childhood in this pleasant neighborhood which saw the rise of the Bibliothèque du Soleil by another writer, Pierre Clitandre. He has just written to the interim Minister of Culture and Communication, but also of Justice and Public Security, Emmelie Prophète, herself a writer, who described gang life in her latest novel .
Carrefour-Feuilles also saw the growth of the novelist Gary Victor. “Gary alerted us,” says writer Yanick Lahens, who co-signed a statement titled “Public Powers and Mobilization of the Population”: “How many hundreds of our women and children must still be raped, executed , burned before the public authorities did everything possible to put an end to the plague of gangs and their sponsors? We denounce the silence and passivity of the authorities in the face of the tragedy of the families and demand that the Haitian government mobilize all the necessary resources within the State. »
If, today, Carrefour-Feuilles is more talked about than Martissant, Cité Soleil or Thomassin, it is precisely because the district brings together these writers and artists. Not that their lives matter more than others, but because they express themselves, that solidarity is established, that their action is relayed by lovers of culture, like Delano Morel who continues to survey the city and document everyday life.
Le Point: You had to flee your house when Carrefour-feuilles was burning. Where are you talking to us about today?
Gary Victor: I live with a niece with my mother who I took to the Pacot neighborhood. I am much better off than the majority of the population, families with three children who are not welcomed anywhere, sleep in tents if they cannot find refuge in high schools and churches. And those in other neighborhoods where there is no traffic after 6 p.m., where young people try to protect themselves from gangs who warn on the networks that they are going to show up here or there. So, the young people set up barricades, arm themselves with stones, and the local police officers join forces with the population to organize a form of security, as if by reflex. Since there is no longer a national police force. It does not work.
Since when have you seen this rise of armed gangs?
For more than six months, gangs have attacked Martissant and already Carrefour-Feuilles, from the west. But, within two or three weeks, it exploded. And I must denounce this: during demonstrations by the population to ask for help from the Haitian National Police against the gangs that threaten them, demonstrators were gassed and clubbed by the police themselves.
Who do these gangs work for and where do their weapons come from?
Complicity between government and gangs? Accomplishments with drug cartels to gain free rein? With business circles to evict the poor from the lower part of the city, recover land from the city center to modernize it and build luxury housing estates – because Port-au-Prince is also a paradise site? Protection of some, blackmail of others like in the mafia? We can only make guesses and remain without answers.
Except that we know that their weapons arrive in containers, mainly from the United States – Miami – and the Dominican Republic. But with whose complicity? Who finances? By whom are they manipulated? Sometimes there is even collusion between the police and these gangs. And when we see every day the number of armed police officers who surround the slightest traveling minister's car...
Who are these young people who form these gangs?
Young people who are idle, unemployed, left behind, who are manipulated by giving them a weapon and money. Heirs to the gangs paid by former President Aristide to get votes... The gangs scare everyone away, they loot, rape, kill.. They don't wage guerrilla warfare in the name of a revolution, no. They execute, including their own “soldiers” if they do not obey to the letter, very young people, kids. They even burn down an orphanage. It is a campaign of terror.
At Carrefour-Feuilles, they were shooting at anything that moves. These gangs are proof of the total decay of the State, of the absence of governance, one could think of child soldiers in African wars... But here, in Haiti, why? It is terror and, little by little, the whole mountain above the district has been controlled. The national police pretended to intervene, then they backed off. Even the police told the population to flee because they can do nothing more.
What would be the impact of external intervention, requested by the Prime Minister?
In previous foreign interventions, we have seen that crime has taken advantage of the military presence. We saw UN officials, yes, but going to the beach! What is needed is not cosmetics, but serious help to combat organized gangs, prevent arms smuggling across borders and to help a serious government be installed with the conditions necessary for free and fair elections, and a capable force to secure the territory. And above all, from now on, we need a government reaction from within, as quickly as possible.
How would you describe your Carrefour-Feuilles?
An urban area to the southwest of Port-au-Prince inhabited by wealthy middle classes, a somewhat rebellious neighborhood where a lot of artists and musicians live... Dany Laferrière grew up on the edge of this very green, quiet, but which gradually expanded with shantytowns to Morne l'Hôpital because it welcomed many migrants from the south of Haiti, in this great movement of shantytowns in the city, with the rural exodus.
Recently, those from other neighborhoods who were already fleeing gang violence have also arrived, such as Cité Soleil, Martissant, Croix des Bouquets. People are deserting... The Oloffson hotel [mythical setting of the book The Comedians by Graham Greene, NLDR] is almost backed by Carrefour-Feuilles, and a few days ago I said to my friend the filmmaker Richard Sénécal, who was staying there , to leave as soon as possible because the hotel is made of wood and you only need two Molotov cocktails. All these lootings and fires now reach the city center, and the district of the ministries...