WASHINGTON / CROIX DES BOUQUETS, HAITI - Fantom 509, a heavily armed group of disgruntled current and former police officers, pulled off another jailbreak in Haiti on Thursday, its second in as many days.
The rebels broke into the jail of the Croix des Bouquets police station, about 13 kilometers northeast of Port-au-Prince.
Video recorded by VOA Creole shows a former detainee leaving the jail, surrounded by masked and unmasked Fantom 509 police officers, some of whom are holding what appear to be automatic weapons. Clapping and cheers are heard in the background as the group quickly exits the main gate.
Geffrard Guerby, who identified himself as a delegate of the national police union, SPNH17, spoke to VOA after the jailbreak. He said Fantom 509 was following through on a previous threat.
"Yesterday, we said [that] until we get the policemen's bodies back, we will make the country unlivable. It will not be able to function,” Guerby told VOA, acting as a spokesman for Fantom 509.
Guerby was referring to the bodies of police officers who died March 12 in an anti-gang operation in Village de Dieu; gang members are still holding the bodies.
The national police and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers launched the March 12 operation in Village de Dieu, a Port-au-Prince slum and gang stronghold. Gangs there have been blamed for a surge in kidnappings that have targeted Haitians from all levels of society and terrorized the nation.
The police operation was botched, resulting in the deaths of four officers. Gang members posted gruesome videos of the victims as well as photos of themselves standing in front of an armored police vehicle they had seized during the operation. Critics blamed faulty police intelligence for the failed operation.
Guerby told VOA the officer they freed Thursday was in jail for a shooting that killed a gang member.
"That bandit [he shot] was an ally of [Bob Anel,] the mayor of Croix des Bouquets," Guerby alleged. "The mayor called [a city official] … and asked him to have the policeman arrested because he killed a gang member who was his [Anel’s] ally."
The mayor has not yet responded to the allegation.
Alleged murder plot
Guerby then alleged to VOA Creole that there was a plot by the government to kill Police Inspector General Carl Henry Boucher, who was arrested after the Village de Dieu operation and is being held in isolation at the national police academy.
"I learned that the government made a deal with [Police Chief] Leon Charles to kill Carl Henry Boucher, who is in isolation, and then say he had a stroke so he will not tell the truth about the [Village de Dieu] operation. We dare the government and Leon Charles to try it. Carl Henry Boucher will not die — we need to hear what he has to say,” Guerby told VOA Creole.
In a telephone interview with local media Wednesday, Boucher, who is in charge of general intelligence for the national police force, denied being involved in the failed Village de Dieu operation. He said he had nothing to do with the operation and that the National Police Force was making him a scapegoat.
"Today I've been abandoned by the institution to which I have given 25 years of my life. Now they want to throw me into the lion’s den," Boucher said, adding that he has always acted with bravery, loyalty and responsibility.
Police chief response
On Wednesday, Fantom 509 members freed four police officers from Delmas 33 jail and made the same allegation about Boucher. Later that night, in a press conference, Charles, the director-general of Haiti’s National Police Force, addressed the allegations.
"With regards to decisions made after the events [of March 12] concerning IG Boucher, police officers must allow the inspector general's office to do its job. No police officer should make the situation worse by taking to the streets to demand his freedom," Charles said.
"What we saw in the streets today is linked to the same personal interests that led to the failed operation last Friday. Now Fantom 509 is taking advantage of the situation to create chaos as the national police are coping with the pain and sorrow of having lost their colleagues," Charles said.
State of emergency
In response to the jailbreak Wednesday, Haitian President Jovenel Moise declared a state of emergency, citing national security.
"A new extraordinary session of the council of ministers was held today at the national palace during which a state of emergency was declared for national security reasons in all areas identified by the CSPN [Supreme Council of the National Police] including Village de Dieu. … We are determined to establish peace in this country," Moise tweeted.
Un nouveau Conseil des Ministres à l’extraordinaire s’est tenu aujourd’hui, au Palais National, où l’état d’urgence sécuritaire a été déclaré au niveau de toutes les zones identifiées par le CSPN dont Village de Dieu...Nous sommes déterminés à pacifier le pays.#Haïti pic.twitter.com/EsgdBPY3WW— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) March 16, 2021
The decree allows the government to use extraordinary measures to establish security, including requesting the help of international forces.
Haiti is under intense pressure from the U.S. and international community to curb violence so that elections can be held this year. A constitutional referendum is planned for June, followed by legislative and presidential elections in September and November.
Gang-related crime is one of the biggest obstacles that election officials face in terms of creating a climate conducive to holding elections.
Renan Toussaint in Port-au-Prince and Jacquelin Belizaire in Washington contributed to this report.