Haiti gangs loot national library, threatening historic documents

A police vehicle monitors the area near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 2, 2024 (Clarens SIFFROY)
A police vehicle monitors the area near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 2, 2024 (Clarens SIFFROY)

Haiti's National Library was looted Wednesday by armed gangs terrorizing the Caribbean nation's capital Port-au-Prince, its director told AFP, as UNESCO condemned multiple "devastating" attacks on educational and artistic institutions in the city.

Library director Dangelo Neard said the history of Haiti -- the Western Hemisphere's second-oldest republic -- was being threatened.

"Our documentary collections are in danger. We have rare documents over 200 years old, with importance to our heritage, which risk being burned or damaged by bandits," he said.

"I was told that the thugs are taking away the institution's furniture. They also ransacked the building's generator."

Armed groups control most of Port-au-Prince and swaths of countryside in the absence of a functioning government and continued delays in establishing a promised transitional authority.

After several days of relative calm, attacks picked up again in several neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince from Monday.

The attack on the National Library comes after assaults last week on two universities, the Ecole Normale Superieure and the National School of Arts.

The National School of Arts "promotes the development of artists and the influence of Haitian art throughout the world," UNESCO, the UN's education, science and cultural organization, said in a statement condemning vandalism at the institution.

The Ecole Normale Superieure, meanwhile, which UNESCO said was the site of an arson, is "one of the pillars" of the country's education system, as well as the oldest training institution for teachers in the country.

"These acts of vandalism, looting and arson against the country's educational institutions have devastating consequences for the future of Haitian society," UNESCO said.

Also last week, two health care facilities and 10 pharmacies were looted, the UN's humanitarian office said Wednesday, while the remaining hospitals are facing increasing strain.

The country's embattled national police said in a statement Tuesday that they were "determined and committed to restoring order and peace."

- New PM incoming? -

Haiti has been rocked by a surge in violence since February, when its powerful criminal gangs teamed up to attack police stations, prisons, the airport and the seaport.

They are seeking to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been in power since the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021. The country has no sitting parliament, with its last election in 2016.

The country has also been wracked for decades by poverty, natural disasters, political instability and gang violence, with Moise's assassination setting off months of spiraling insecurity even before February's clashes.

Unelected and unpopular, Henry announced March 11 he would step down as part of an internationally brokered plan to make way for a so-called transitional council.

But weeks later the council has yet to be officially formed and installed amid disagreement among the political parties and other stakeholders due to name the next prime minister -- and because of doubts over the very legality of such a council.

"We spent two and a half years with Ariel Henry who did nothing, and now in two weeks we want to do a lot of things," council member Leslie Voltaire told AFP.

He also blamed regional body CARICOM for rushing the formation of the council, though he said it would be stood up by Thursday and would elect a prime minister within a week.