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Can Haiti free itself from gangs’ stranglehold?

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A police officer runs with gun during an anti-gang operation in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Feb. 29. About 200 gangs have been terrorizing Haiti, including around 100 in the capital.(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Haiti has been in a state of emergency after powerful criminal gangs carried out coordinated armed assaults on state institutions, including the main international airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and engaged in shootouts with police and military. The gangs overran two large prisons in Port-au-Prince, freeing thousands of inmates, some of whom were imprisoned for murders, kidnappings or rape.

According to a Northeastern University expert, only strong political will by the international community and a strategic long-term plan in collaboration with locals can restore order to the country. “From the inside alone, things cannot be remedied,” says Nikos Passas, professor of criminology and criminal justice and co-director of the Institute for Security and Public Policy. “The international community does have a role and a duty actually to assist.”

The international community should be interested in combating the Haitian gangs, Passas says, because the country has become a hub for transnational trafficking of firearms and drugs, primarily destined for the U.S. as well as the Dominican Republic and Western Europe. About 200 gangs have been terrorizing Haiti, including around 100 that control 80% of the capital, according to U.N. estimates.

The gangs not only exert political power domestically, but control access to resources such as food and water in some areas, making the local population dependent on them. They use racketeering of businesses, sexual violence, massacres, arsons, extortion and kidnappings to instill fear and accumulate power and money, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. 

Read more at Northeastern Global News.

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