PORT-AU-PRINCE – A police officer and two bus drivers were killed in the capital’s Martissant neighborhood on Wednesday, bringing to 12 the number of confirmed fatalities from weeks of sometimes violent protests demanding that Haitian President Jovenel Moise step down.
The policeman was traveling in his personal vehicle with two colleagues to their duty station at Port-au-Prince International airport when they were intercepted by at least a dozen armed men who demanded that the officers hand over their guns, police sources told EFE.
While one of his colleagues complied, the officer at the wheel refused to give up his weapon and the assailants shot him.
The two surviving offices drove the body of their slain comrade to the Portail Leogane precinct house in the center of the city, where his relatives were waiting.
The bus drivers died in a separate incident in Martissant.
At least seven police officers have died violently this year in Haiti, which has been racked by disturbances since Feb. 7, the second anniversary of Moise’s 2017 inauguration.
The struggles of the poorest nation in the Americas have been exacerbated this year by a sharp depreciation of the gourde and constant power outages stemming from fuel shortages.
This week has seen a tentative return to normality in Port-au-Prince, with the re-opening of banks and businesses and the resumption of classes at public schools.
On Monday, the National Police disclosed the arrest of seven foreigners and one Haitian in possession of automatic weapons.
Five Americans, two Serbians and a Haitian found with several machine guns, handguns, bulletproof vests, satellite phones and other equipment were taken into custody.
Haiti’s attorney general, Paul Eronce Villard, said Tuesday that the seven suspects will be formally charged, though he did not say when.
“We have enough evidence to formally charge them. The possession of illegal weapons is enough, but we are going to investigate beyond the weapons. We are going to determine the motives and find out why they are here and how they arrived,” he said.
Andre Michel, the spokesman for the opposition Democratic and Popular Sector, said Tuesday that the detainees were mercenaries brought in by the Moise government.
Citing unnamed sources, Michel said that members of the Moise government were exerting pressure on police to free the seven suspects.
He also announced the resumption of protests and urged people to turn out on Friday for a march to demand the resignation of Moise.
The Democratic and Popular Sector continues to reject talks with the government and Religions for Peace, an ecumenical alliance, declined a request from Moise to act as mediators between him and the opposition.
More than half of Haiti’s roughly 10 million inhabitants survive on less than $2 a day.
The country’s economy expanded by just 1.4 percent in 2018, a growth rate that was one of the lowest in the region and far below the 2.2 percent forecast at the beginning of last year.