Haitian police
Haitian police officers AFP

Haiti's new leadership has ousted its police chief, Frantz Elbé, amid heavy criticism for what critics say is a failure to protects officers struggling to face heavily armed gangs wreaking havoc in the country.

According to The Associated Press, Elbé will be replaced by a former police chief, Normil Rameau, who had been dismissed by a prior administration in 2020. He faced similar accusations as Elbé, with then-Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe saying he wasn't effectively dealing with gangs, which were making territorial gains.

Rameau will face an even bleaker scenario than four years ago, as gangs have considerably grown in power and are now estimated to control 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

More than 2,500 have been killed in the Caribbean country in the first three months of the year, especially since late February, when criminal organizations escalated their attacks seeking the removal of now former prime minister Ariel Henry.

Figures have continued increasing since, among them over 20 police officers who are fewer and less-equipped than the gangs they are fighting against.

Haiti currently has about 4,000 officers on duty, a figure that pales to the approximately 38,000 the Untied Nations say the country needs to achieve median levels of policing.

The latest fatalities took place last week, when three officers from a newly-formed anti-gang tactical unit were targeted while traveling in an armored vehicle. A fourth remains missing.

On Wednesday, police union SPNH-17 harshly criticized the state of the department and lamented the deaths of the officers. "Look at these young men, hacked to death," spokesman Garry Jean-Baptiste said. Another union known as SYNAPOHA called on newly-appointed prime minister Garry Conille, who went on patrol with police earlier this month, to take quick steps to strengthen the force.

A key factor in the short-term actions by the force will depend on whether a long-awaited international force led by Kenyan police will finally be deployed to the country. Although concrete steps were taken late last month, with U.S. planes arriving with contractors tasked with building initial infrastructure, progress has been halted.

Last week, a Kenyan court postponed a hearing on a new lawsuit against the deployment of the forces. Forces were supposed to start arriving on May 23 to coincide with a visit by Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House. Prior to leaving the U.S., the head of state said the deployment would take place about three weeks from then. But more than three weeks from then, there is no set date either.

Moreover, there is renewed confusion about whether the foreign cops will be tasked with fighting the gangs or if they will solely protect key government infrastructures like the airport, seaport and the presidential palace.

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