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'Like living in a concentration camp': Haitian prisons run out of food and water

Jacqueline Charles and Antonio Maria Delgado, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Jose Espinosa, an advocate for the veterans from Colombia, said he is very concerned about the situation.

“They have gone two days without food. Today would be the third,” he said. “The situation inside the jail is very critical. A mutiny is very likely and (the Colombians) fear that mutiny could be used to attempt to kill them.”

Espinosa said he and his veterans nonprofit group, which has been working to get the Colombians transferred to a third country, do not know the intentions of the prison guards or the Haitian government. “That is why we fear that it is possible that they would use this situation to hurt them or silence them.”

Neither Haiti’s justice minister, Berto Dorcé, nor the head of the prison administration, Pierre Rene Antoine, could be reached for comment.

The food and water shortage is affecting everyone in the prison system, say Port-au-Prince-based human rights advocates, one of whom added that there are also deportees from the United States who are today imprisoned and going without a meal because they have no one to bring food to them.

“The percentage of people who have individuals bringing them food on a regular basis isn’t even 5%,” said Pierre Esperance, who heads the National Human Rights Defense Network.

The shortages, along with the reduction in prison visits and recreation activities, Esperance said, is a recipe for a prison revolt or a prison break, the latter of which has been a threat for months.

“If the minister of justice wants to tackle the issue of insecurity in the country, he needs to resolve the prison issue,” said Renan Hédouville, who directs the ombudsman office in Haiti, adding that if there is a revolt, “kidnappers, rapists will take to the streets to continue to commit crimes.”

Hédouville blames the food shortage on government bureaucracy and the lack of financial autonomy by the prison administration, which depends on the Haiti National Police for requisitions from the finance ministry.


Of the 11,152 inmates nationwide, 3,663 are in the National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince, Hédouville said. Of that number only 363 have been sentenced, meaning the rest are awaiting to go before a judge to have their cases heard.

Haiti’s court system has been shut down since April 12, the day court clerks in the country’s 18 jurisdictions went on a nationwide strike over pay and working conditions.

Hédouville fears that if the food and water shortage isn’t quickly resolved, “a lot of people” will die in the coming days.

“This is a huge human rights violation,” he said. “We believe the only way to resolve this is to allow (the prison administration) to have financial autonomy.”

There is also a lack of basic medication. There have already been confirmed cases of tuberculosis and COVID-19 in prison, which last year led to the death of at least one of the 44 people initially jailed in the Moïse assassination.

The situation, Gilles, the human rights advocate said, is unacceptable.

“There is no real political will to improve the conditions of the people inside the prisons,“ Gilles said. “The people who are behind bars today it’s like they are living in a concentration camp.”

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