Eyewitness: Haiti‘s lawless streets

By Claire Marshall

There were no jubilant crowds celebrating the start of Haiti‘s carnival season on Friday. Instead of colourful floats making their way through the streets, with music and singing, the capital echoed with the sounds of gunfire.

About 500 students demonstrating against the government were attacked by militant groups loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Approaching one crossroads in the centre of the capital, it was clear that these pro-Aristide gangs were in control of the area.

Passing by one house, a woman rushed out to talk to us, speaking urgently through the bars of the protective gate in front of her property.

“Don’t go down there,” she said. “They are not joking you know.

“Come inside and hide.”

Further down the street, men roamed around carrying guns and machetes. They were assembling makeshift barricades out of boulders and bits of rubbish.

If you don’t put that camera down, I will kill you

Militant in Port-au-Prince

Car tyres screeched as people tried to turn their vehicles around once they realised what was happening.

One of the militants came up to us, shouting in Creole: “I don’t want my picture taken. If you don’t put that camera down, I will kill you.”

Nearby, a group of policemen holding rifles stood around watching. When asked why they were not intervening, one replied: “What do you expect me to do, go out and start shooting? They are armed.”

The plain-clothed man who had threatened us then proceeded to give the police orders as to who they should let down the street, and who they should turn away.

Peace moves

News started filtering through that two journalists had been injured in the clashes.


One, a local radio reporter was shot twice in the back. Another, thought to be a cameraman working for a Spanish television station, had a machete wound to his ear.

Numerous other people had received gunshot wounds.

It was an ominous development just a few days after one of President Aristide’s Lavalas party spokesmen called members of the press “terrorists”.

The voice of the government crackled through the radio. Spokesman Mario Dupuy said the government condemned all forms of violence, but that the students had not got the necessary permission for their demonstration. As such, this protest was a “provocation”, he said.

This comes as diplomats arrive in Port-au-Prince arrive to talk about a proposed peace plan to end the unrest.

On the agenda is an idea to establish some kind of transitional government under a new prime minister.

However, without plans to ask President Aristide to step down, it seems unlikely that any members of the opposition, let alone the armed rebels in control of parts of the country, will agree to talk.