man holding weapon

In Haiti, pastor leads followers into gunfire

At least seven people are dead after a protest led by a pastor marched through a gang-controlled suburb of the capital. 

The World

A violent gang in Haiti opened fire on Saturday on protesters organized by a church leader close to Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. At least seven people were killed, and others were wounded and kidnapped.

Marcorel Zidor, known as Pastor Marco, had been urging hundreds of his followers to confront a street gang that controls a swath of a suburb called Canaan, which he said had attacked many of his parishioners.

The gang, known as 5 Seconds, has got a reputation for random killings, kidnappings and extortion. Just last week, gang leaders said they wanted to shut down the only road connecting the capital to the country’s north.

On Saturday, he organized a protest against the gang, and hundreds of religious faithful attended his call. The group, wearing matching yellow shirts, marched from the Caradeux neighborhood, where their church is located, toward Canaan. Some carried wooden sticks or machetes.

Graphic videos shared on social media show protesters being shot at, bodies in the streets and people who appear to be taken hostage.

“The gangs fired on them with their M-16s and M4 and M14. It was a real massacre,” said Henry-Louis Mars, executive director of Lakou Lapè, a peace institute based in Port-au-Prince.

Mars said it’s unclear why the pastor led his followers into such a dangerous situation.

“I think it’s to attract attention, to show off that he can mobilize people. So, he might have political ambitions, he wants national attention.”

Mars said other Protestant pastors have called for demonstrations recently, but they have not done what Pastor Marco did, by confronting gang members in the street.

Speaking to the news media, protester Francois Vicner said he saw Pastor Marco leading the demonstration.

“The pastor assured his followers that they were bulletproof,” he said.

In an interview on local radio on Monday, Pastor Marco confirmed this. He said that 95% of his parishioners survived because they had faith, and those who were killed did not have faith.

Rosy Ducenat, program manager of the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti, said the national police were aware of this protest and they didn’t stop it.

“The pastor publicly announced that he was going to take the members of his church to Canaan to fight the gangs. This is actually incitement to violence, and the police should have prevented the victims from going to Canaan.”

In a press conference on Monday, Police Chief Frantz Elbe said that they did what they could to prevent the protest, but that the people were determined to go.

Haiti has been grappling with violent gangs since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021.

Mars said to build peace in Haiti, the smuggling of guns from the US into Haiti must stop.

“If there’s no longer any guns coming in, and ammunition coming in, then you would have these guys more willing to negotiate.”

The government of Kenya proposed to lead a multinational effort to bring order to Haiti, including 1,000 security forces. The Bahamas have offered to send 150 police officers, too.

But Haitians have mixed feelings about that.

Ducenat said it’s a bad idea: “Reinforcing the police and the impunity and the bad governance would be much more helpful. But of course, most of the population seems to believe that the international military will help them because of a lack of confidence they have in the police institution today.”

Earlier this month, the United States said that it would present a resolution to the UN Security Council, authorizing the intervention of security forces from Kenya.

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