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Haiti Cancels Carnival After Police, Soldiers Firefight

Haiti Cancels Carnival After Police, Soldiers Firefight

Carnival didn’t go off as planned in Haiti. A police protest over pay resulted in a gunfight between the country’s armed forces. Carnival was canceled. Armed off-duty police officers protest over police pay and working conditions, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 23, 2020. Off-duty police officers and their supporters exchanged fire for nearly two hours with members of the newly reconstituted Haitian army in front of the national palace. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Carnival didn’t go off as planned in Haiti. A police protest over pay and work conditions resulted in a gunfight between the country’s police force and the army. As a result, carnival was canceled.

“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 Miami Herald reported. 

Some of the police were in uniform and others were hooded and dressed in civilian clothing. They fought alongside civilian protesters. They were fighting members of the newly revived Armed Forces of Haiti. The gunbattle took place shortly after 1 p.m. on the Champ de Mars, the staging ground for Carnival festivities.

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By 8 p.m. the Haitian government had officially canceled its national Carnival, which was to run Sunday through Tuesday, Miami Herald reported.

According to the local radio Radio Mega, at least one person was killed in the capital when he was hit in the head with a bullet. At least 13 others were also wounded, including police officers.

“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, told The Miami Herald. “The government already knew what they were prepared to do… They decided to assassinate us, but we aren’t going to back down.”

Prior to the gunbattle, the officers had demanded a pay raise.

In a press conference, acting Prime Minister Jean-Michel Lapin said the government could not immediately raise officers’ pay because of rules governing the salaries of public servants. Currently, the pay is between $200 and $255 a month before taxes. Other measures were announced, such as doubling a monthly police debit card from $51 to $102 for 15,000 members of the police force; a new police housing village with 2-bedroom apartments with a mortgage payable over 25 to 30 years at 7.5 percent interest rate, and access to the National Old Age Insurance Office, a government pension plan usually reserved for private-sector employees.

“We already took to the streets where we asked the Haitian government to improve our working conditions, and we asked for an increase in our pay,” said one officer, dismissing the promises. “We are not backing down.”