On the first day of Haiti’s pre-Lenten Carnival celebration, the country’s two armed forces squared off Sunday, with off-duty members of the Haiti National Police and their supporters exchanging gunfire for more than two hours with members of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s reconstituted army just steps away from the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.
The gun battle between cops — some of them in uniform and others hooded and dressed in civilian clothing fighting alongside civilian protesters — and members of the newly revived Armed Forces of Haiti took place shortly after 1 p.m. on the Champ de Mars, the staging ground for Carnival festivities.
By 8 p.m. the government announced that its national Carnival, planned for Sunday thru Tuesday, was officially canceled “in order to avoid the planned bloodshed.” The announcement came about an hour after the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the North told the Miami Herald that he had taken a similar decision regarding Cap-Haitien’s Mardi Gras. A spokesman for the commission overseeing the festivities later insisted that the street party would go on.
With gunshots replacing the masqueraders and musical acts who traditionally invite the population to throw caution to the wind and dance in abandonment, the public square in Port-au-Prince had quickly turned into a war zone littered with rocks, wounded people and bullets.
At least one person was killed in the capital when he was hit in the head with a bullet, local radio Radio Mega reported. At least 13 others were also wounded, including police officers, the radio said.
Radio Television Caraibes, a popular radio station on Rue Chavannes, also came under attack, with unknown individuals setting fire to at least four cars in front of the station, according to one of its morning hosts, Pierre Renel Rene.
“I didn’t know I was coming to battle,” said a 24-year-old police officer, who was wearing his uniform but did not want to give his name and broke down in tears as he accused the army of opening fire on them and noted that several of his colleagues had been shot. “The government already knew what they were prepared to do…. They decided to assassinate us, but we aren’t going to back down.”
The officer, who joined the force two years ago, said police had decided that they would “do our own Carnival” after the government on Saturday failed to reinstate five fired officers involved in a unionization effort, or meet their demands for a pay increase.