PORT-AU-PRINCE – Police officials unhappy about their working conditions turned the heart of Haiti’s capital into a war zone Sunday by attempting to storm the army’s headquarters leaving at least two dead and nine wounded.
The assault took place on “dimanche gras,” the first day of the Haitian carnival and in the center of the large Champ de Mars public square, in front of the presidential palace where the parades were to be held. Those were canceled following the shootings.
A group of plainclothes and hooded police officers fired at the army’s headquarters and tried to set fire to the building, located in the same area, the High Command of the Armed Forces of Haiti said in a statement.
One soldier died during the shootout while another, whose rank was not specified, was wounded and hospitalized and is in stable condition, the statement read.
The High Command said the military maintained “a defensive posture to prevent a bloodbath,” while calling on police to “restore calm.”
The shooting then spread to the Champ de Mars square with the military on one side and uniformed and plainclothes police officials on the other, according to journalists who had gone to cover the carnival.
One police official also died in the clashes while at least eight people, including three civilians and five officers, were injured, a spokesperson for the Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince told EFE.
Incidents have also spread to the headquarters of Radio Television Caraibes, where armed men identified as “police protesters,” set fire to several vehicles of the broadcaster, the journalists’ union said.
Heavy gunfire was still being heard at various points in Port-au-Prince later in the night.
After these incidents, the Haitian government announced the cancellation of the carnival, which was organized to give a sense of normalcy to the country after the recent crisis.
“In order to prevent a planned bloodbath, the government informs the citizens and those taking part in the carnival in particular that it has decided to cancel the carnival in Port-au-Prince,” the ministry of culture and communication announced in an official statement.
The government described the events in downtown Port-au-Prince as a “war situation,” with shootings throughout the day and blocked streets.
Police officers have demonstrated several times this year calling for wage improvements and the right to create a union, among other demands.
Last week, in an attempt to pressure the government, they tried to boycott the carnival by setting fire to the stages set up at Champ de Mars.
On Saturday, Haitian President Jovenel Moise announced extraordinary measures for police officials, including the granting of mortgage loans at very low rates, an offer the officers rejected.
A severe political, economic and social crisis has racked Haiti since last year, leading to widespread protests between September and November.
The crisis has brought the country’s institutions to a standstill, with Haiti having had an acting prime minister since March 2019 and the parliament currently shut down indefinitely because the terms of all lower-house lawmakers and most senators have expired and no new legislative elections have been held.