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Police Shoot and Kill Known Haitian Gang Leader After Jailbreak

Arnel Joseph, the notorious leader of the Village de Dieu gang, was killed in a gun battle with police Friday in the town of L’Estere, near Gonaives in Haiti’s north, officials said.”He opened fire on a police patrol who had stopped his motorbike at a checkpoint. The police returned fire and Arnel Joseph was killed,” Frantz Exantus, Haiti’s secretary of state for communication, told reporters during an afternoon press conference.Pressed on how sure he was that it was the gang leader who was killed, Exantus said several police “technical services” had confirmed the identity of the body at the scene.The gang leader’s prison break from the Croix des Bouquets civilian jail Thursday shocked Haitians worldwide. Fear spread throughout the nation as people took to social media for information and to react, sharing photos and videos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.In a statement emailed to VOA on Friday morning, Exantus described the jailbreak as “deplorable.”Who is Arnel Joseph?Joseph, in his 20s, had been Prison Civile de la Croix-des-Bouquets, Port-au-Prince, HaitiThe Prison Civile de la Croix des Bouquets, about 13 kilometers northeast of Port-au-Prince, is one of Haiti’s most modern and secure facilities.”There are some details [of the mutiny] that are not yet available, but what we can tell you is that the goal was to empty the prison,” Exantus told reporters. “Thanks to the vigilance of the police, that did not happen. The cellblock where Arnel Joseph was held had the most activity so that is where the police focused their attention.”According to Exantus, there were 25 deaths as a result of the mutiny, including six prisoners, Joseph among them. The prison inspector general, Hector Paul Joseph, also was killed during the gunfight.Exantus said before the jailbreak, 1,542 prisoners were in detention and there are now 1,125. Two hundred prisoners remain at large, and a nationwide search continues, law enforcement officials said. Sixty of those who escaped have been caught and are back in custody.Exantus said 17 firearms were recovered and that multiple tear gas cannisters were recovered in the prison yard.Notorious historyThe Croix des Bouquets prison is no stranger to controversy. It holds some high-profile detainees such as former member of Haiti’s Chamber of Deputies Arnel Belizaire, who is accused of illegal possession of firearms and conspiring against national security. The alleged coup plotters involved in the attempt to overthrow President Jovenel Moise on Feb. 7 are also detained there.Despite being a maximum-security facility, there have been multiple publicized jailbreaks. Most recently in July 2020, when Joseph escaped his prison cell and spent hours on the rooftop before being caught by prison guards and returned to his cell.Reaction from President MoiseShortly before the press conference to announce the gang leader’s death, Moise tweeted condemnation.”We CONDEMN the CROIX DES BOUQUETS jailbreak and urge the population to remain calm. The #PNH is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control,” he tweeted.We CONDEMN the CROIX DES BOUQUETS jailbreak and urge the population to remain calm. The #PNH is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control.#Haïti— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) February 26, 2021Earlier this week, he was criticized by United Nations, U.S., French, Chinese, Russian and Mexican representatives at a U.N. Security Council meeting for not getting gang violence under control and bringing those responsible to justice.International reactionA U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed sorrow over lives lost and urged the Haitian government to address security failures.”We saw reports of Arnel Joseph’s escape from Croix des Bouquets prison yesterday and were saddened by reports of lives lost,” the spokesperson told VOA.”We have consistently urged the Haitian authorities to take steps to strengthen the rule of law and the justice sector. This event underscores the need for the Haitian government to invest further in the Haitian National Police (HNP), including the prison system,” the spokesperson said.”It also highlights the importance of ending prolonged pretrial detention so the prison system can focus on securely detaining dangerous convicted prisoners like Arnel Joseph,” the spokesperson added. “The U.S. government, through our INL (Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs) programs, has provided technical assistance, training and equipment, and funded construction to assist the HNP in improving the prison system.”The U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in Haiti, Helen La Lime, expressed concern.”I am deeply concerned with the mutiny and prison escape which occurred in Croix-des-Bouquets on 25 February 2021,” La Lime, who heads the U.N. Integrated Bureau for Haiti, told VOA.”While the prompt response of the Haitian National Police likely prevented the escape of more inmates, I encourage the police to speed up investigations on the circumstances surrounding this incident, redouble its efforts to reapprehend the escapees, and strengthen security around prisons throughout the country,” La Lime said.Democratic U.S. Congressman Andy Levin of Michigan slammed Moise for the jailbreak on Twitter.”This prison break massacre is a tragic sign of the rule of law collapsing in Haiti,” Levin tweeted. “Jovenel Moïse’s antidemocratic rule is costing Haitians their lives and eliminating any sense of safety.This prison break massacre is a tragic sign of the rule of law collapsing in Haiti. Jovenel Moïse’s antidemocratic rule is costing Haitians their lives and eliminating any sense of safety.— Rep. Andy Levin (@RepAndyLevin) February 26, 2021What’s next?Exantus said three commissions have been created to investigate the mutiny.One will be led by the inspector general of the national police, who will investigate administrative failures. A second judicial commission will be led by the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciare, the investigative unit of the national police force, to determine who should be charged. A third commission will be led by the penitentiary administration and will investigate what conditions led to the jailbreak and determine who was involved.Exantus told VOA he did not think the jailbreak would affect plans to hold elections later this year.

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Top US Diplomat ‘Visits’ Mexico, Canada on Virtual Trip

Diplomats sat beside stacks of briefing papers, flanked by flags and emphasized their closeness. But they were geographically far apart Friday as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, because of the pandemic, started a new chapter in North American relations with virtual visits to Mexico and Canada in what was billed as his first official trip.Though symbolically important in any administration, the decision by President Joe Biden to dispatch Blinken to Mexico and Canada for the first visits, even virtually, is part of a broader effort to turn the page from a predecessor who at times had fraught relations with both nations. The three nations signed a revamped trade accord last year after then-President Donald Trump demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.The secretary began his virtual visits with Mexico, a country Trump repeatedly disparaged in his campaign and early in his presidency, though relations turned more cordial under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.”I wanted to ‘visit,’ in quotation marks, Mexico first to demonstrate the importance that we attach, President Biden attaches, to the relationship between our countries,” Blinken told his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, speaks during a virtual meeting at the State Department on Feb. 26, 2021, with Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau who is in Ottawa, Canada.Blinken’s meetings with Mexico and Canada, two of the largest U.S. trading partners, were expected to cover economic ground as well as efforts to fight COVID-19, which has prompted all three countries to close the borders to all but essential traffic.Biden last week participated in his first bilateral meeting, also virtual, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who at times had a frosty relationship with Trump. Biden disappointed some in Canada with his decision upon taking office to reverse Trump and revoke the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Barack Obama’s administration determined had only limited energy and economic benefits to the U.S. and conflicted with efforts to curb climate change.That didn’t come up in the public portion of Blinken’s meeting with Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, who welcomed Biden’s commitment to “renew U.S. leadership and diplomacy.” The secretary later met privately with Trudeau.Ebrard, for his part, welcomed Biden’s decision to reverse his predecessor and rejoin both the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization. He also praised the “initiatives” of the new administration, an apparent reference to the decision to set a new course on some immigration and border policies.”We understand that these are being done in recognition to the Mexican community,” he said, without mentioning any specific policy. “We are receiving them with empathy.”Biden ended Trump’s policy of requiring migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico or to pursue their claims in Central America. He also restored protection for people without legal status in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children, many of whom are Mexican, and is backing legislation that would enable them to seek citizenship.The Biden administration has begun processing the asylum claims of about 25,000 migrants who had been in Mexico, often in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, but has not lifted a policy, imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, of quickly expelling people captured along the border and has sought to discourage illegal migration.Just before his visit with Ebrard, Blinken conducted a virtual tour of the busy border crossing at El Paso, Texas, and said the administration is working with Mexico and Central American nations to ease the conditions that drive people to try to illegally reach the United States.”To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is: Don’t do it. We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures,” he said.

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US Immigration Officials to Deport 13 Haitians Arrested in Florida

U.S. Immigration officials are planning to deport to Haiti 13 Haitian nationals who were arrested in Florida along with a U.S. citizen.The U.S. Embassy in Haiti announced the arrests Thursday in a series of tweets posted in English and Haitian Creole.U.S. Immigration authorities arrested 13 Haitian nationals in Florida and processed them for removal. The suspected smuggler was taken into custody. Migrating illegally is dangerous and will prove a #FutileJourney.— U.S. Embassy Haiti (@USEmbassyHaiti) February 25, 2021″The suspected smuggler was also identified. Both vessels involved in the incident will be seized. An investigation by #DHS partners remains ongoing,” the tweet said.Adam Hoffner of the U.S. Border Patrol Miami Sector said agents responding to “a maritime smuggling event” found seven Haitian males and six females and a U.S. citizen on the shores of Dania Beach at the Cozy Cove Marina.In a joint effort with federal agents, the group was taken into Border Patrol custody.”The Haitian nationals were interviewed and processed for removal proceedings and subsequently turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO),” Hoffner told VOA via email.”The U.S. Border Patrol is investigating this case alongside our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partners and will seek to prosecute any individuals who are identified as smugglers,” Hoffner said.Two vessels that were determined to be involved in the incident were also seized by U.S. Border Patrol.”We continuously warn migrants about the dangers associated with traveling by sea,” Hoffner said. “Smuggling organizations are not concerned with the safety of the people they are smuggling, rather they continue to put the lives of migrants at risk.”The Biden administration has faced criticism from the Haitian American community in Miami for failing to deliver on promises made during the 2020 election campaign to reverse some of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, indefinitely banned the Biden administration from enforcing a 100-day moratorium on deportations.Biden is proposing changes in the nation’s immigration laws that would allow 11 million people currently living illegally in the United States to be legalized.Haiti Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond called on the Biden administration to work with Congress to find a more permanent solution.”We appreciate the efforts made by the Biden administration to get a 100-day moratorium on deportations. While we respect the last ruling of a federal judge on this issue, we do hope that the Biden administration with the help of the U.S. Congress will find a final resolution to this very sensitive issue impacting a number of Haitians. The human impact should be considered,” Edmond told VOA.

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Global Proliferation of Human Rights Violations Eroding Fundamental Freedoms, Bachelet Says

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva,
Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.  
She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.
Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. with systemic racism. She took the European Union to task for anti-migrant restrictions that put lives in jeopardy. She denounced the shrinking civic space across Southeast Asia, condemning the military coup in Myanmar and death squads in the Philippines.  
She condemned corrupt, discriminatory and abusive practices in Venezuela, Honduras and other countries in the Americas that have forced millions of people to flee for their lives. She deplored the terrible suffering of millions of people victimized by conflicts in the Middle East.
Specifically, Bachelet expressed concern about alleged abuses committed by all parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. She called for a credible investigation into allegations of mass killings, extrajudicial executions, and other attacks on civilians, including sexual violence in the province.
“I am also disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray—some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces. At least 15,000 Eritreans who had taken refuge are unaccounted for following the destruction of their shelters. Coupled with growing insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, the conflict in Tigray could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights,” she said.
Bachelet called on the Ugandan government to refrain from using regulations to combat COVID-19 to arrest and detain political opponents and journalists. And, she warned of the dangers posed by apparent official attempts in neighboring Tanzania to deny the reality of COVID-19.
“Including measures to criminalize recognition of the pandemic and related information. This could have serious impact on Tanzanians’ right to health. I note reports of pushbacks of hundreds of asylum seekers from Mozambique and the DRC, as well as continued reports of torture, enforced disappearances and forced returns of Burundian refugees,” she said.
Bachelet noted people in every region of the world were being left behind and excluded from development and other opportunities as the coronavirus pandemic continued to gather pace. She said building trust and maintaining and expanding freedoms were central to global efforts to contain and crush the coronavirus.

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First Asylum-Seekers from Mexico’s Matamoros Border Camp Enter US

The first asylum-seekers from a Mexican border camp that had become a symbol of Trump-era immigration restrictions entered the United States on Thursday under a new policy meant to end the hardships endured by migrants in dangerous border towns. The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the initial group comprised 27 people who had been living in the makeshift camp in Matamoros opposite Brownsville, Texas. Some residents have lived there for more than a year under former President Donald Trump’s controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings. The first group of 27 migrants leave their camp towards the Gateway International Bridge to be processed and seek asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, Feb. 25, 2021.A new process under President Joe Biden will gradually allow thousands of MPP asylum-seekers to await courts’ decisions within the United States. Some migrants last week were permitted to cross into San Ysidro, California. Francisco Gallardo, who runs a migrant shelter in Matamoros and provides humanitarian aid at the camp, welcomed the news that the process had begun in Matamoros, but said it should have come sooner. “It’s good that they are doing it, but unfortunately coming late,” he said. Freezing temperatures at the U.S.-Mexico border had made the Matamoros camp a priority, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday. Migrants at the camp have struggled to ensure proper hygiene and to protect themselves from organized crime in a state that is one of the most violent in Mexico. “The camp was a space that had multiple risks for the migrants,” said Misael Hernandez, a researcher on migration issues at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. Mexico’s migration institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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Haiti Gang Violence Puts Burn Victims at Risk, Doctors Say

Burn patients in Haiti who need specialized care had to be transferred, after gang violence erupted near the burn care hospital in Drouillard, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood.Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says the violence is putting its patients at risk. 
“Severe burns require highly specialized care, and our Drouillard hospital is Haiti’s only specialized burn care center,” Dr. Alain Ngamba, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti, told VOA via email. “We are concerned about the consequences for patients who would otherwise have been admitted there.”  
MSF says the eruption of gunfire on February 23 sent staff members running for cover on hospital grounds. That’s when it was decided to relocate 21 patients to an MSF hospital in the Tabarre neighborhood of Haiti’s capital, once the shooting stopped. No staff or patients were injured during the violence, MSF told VOA.  
 Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres burns hospital in Drouillard, Haiti. (Photo: Lunos Saint Brave/MSF)Outpatient services for burn patients had been transferred out of Drouillard since February 13, after a first wave of gang violence. For now, only the emergency department of the hospital is open, but it is functioning at a reduced capacity and limited to accepting only life-threatening cases, MSF says. 
“The situation around our hospital in Drouillard has deteriorated, for patients and for staff,” Aline Serin, MSF head of mission in Haiti, said in a statement. “Faced with the recurrence of this violence, we have decided to move patients from our burn center and outpatient services to our trauma hospital in Tabarre, in order to ensure the protection of staff, the safety of our patients and continuity of their care.”  
MSF’s Drouillard location employs about 250 staff — a mix of Haitian and international MSF employees. Originally set up as a trauma center in 2011 to treat victims of violence, road accidents or burns, the hospital shifted its focus to specialized burn care in 2014.  
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Haiti in March 2020, the Drouillard hospital temporarily shifted to treating COVID-19 patients between May and August. After August, the hospital reshifted its focus to burn care.  
“We are still working to set up an operating theater in our Tabarre hospital for our existing burns patients,” Ngamba told VOA. “We already treat trauma patients at our Tabarre hospital, so this does not leave many more places for burns patients. Currently we do not have the capacity to admit new patients with severe burns.”  
 MSF staff transfer burn patients out of Drouillard hospital to Tabarre trauma center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo: Avra Fialas/MSF)Gang violence has been a concern not only for Haitian authorities but also the international community, which raised the issue at a February 22 United Nations Security Council meeting.   
“We urge Haitian authorities to redouble their efforts to investigate and prosecute violent crime,” said Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  
France’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Nathalie Broadhurst, also criticized Haiti’s government for lack of progress on curbing gang violence. 
“I ask this question straightforwardly: How is it possible today that Jimmy Cherizier [notorious Haitian gang leader] is still walking free?” Broadhurst said. “The fight against impunity must be the priority of the authorities.” 
Responding to the criticism, Haitian President Jovenel Moise cited progress in dismantling gangs and reducing violence in his speech to the U.N. Security Council. 
“Of 102 existing gangs, the government has dismantled 64 and is working to quickly to reestablish security,” he said. 
But as chronic insecurity continues in Port-au-Prince, MSF is calling for the respect of health facilities so that patients and staff can access them.  

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COVID Takes Extra Big Toll on Britain’s Migrants

Workers from Latin America are already among the lowest paid in Britain. Now, advocates say the pandemic has left nearly half of them without a job, creating what some are warning is a new migrant crisis in Europe.  For VOA, Joana Ramiro reports from London.

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Venezuelans Barter for Food

Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, is worth almost nothing these days. That’s forced the country’s citizens to figure out new ways to put food on their tables. Adriana Nunez Rabascall reports this story narrated by Cristina Smit.

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Honduran Man Exits US Church After Years in Sanctuary From Deportation 

After 3½ years of living inside a Missouri church to avoid deportation, Honduran immigrant Alex Garcia finally stepped outside Wednesday, following a promise from President Joe Biden’s administration to let him be.Garcia, a married father of five, was slated for removal from the U.S. in 2017, the first year of President Donald Trump’s administration. Days before he would have been deported, Christ Church United Church of Christ in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood offered sanctuary.Sara John of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America said Garcia’s decision to leave the church came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement declared that he was no longer a deportation priority, and that the agency would not pursue his detention or removal.Garcia, in a statement, said he was separated from living with his family for 1,252 days. A crowd of about 100 people cheered as he and his family left the church Wednesday.”We are not done yet,” Garcia said. “There is still so much work that has to be done and I look forward to being able to join you all out there in the community and continue to fight for my permanent protection.”In his first weeks as president, Biden has signed several executive orders on immigration issues that undo his predecessor’s policies, though several Republican members of Congress are pushing legal challenges.Myrna Orozco, organizing coordinator at Church World Service, said 33 immigrants remain inside churches across the U.S., a number that should continue to drop.”We expect it to change in the next couple of weeks as we get more clarity from ICE or [immigrants] get a decision on their cases,” Orozco said.Others emergeOthers who have emerged from sanctuary since Biden took office include Jose Chicas, a 55-year-old El Salvador native, who left a church-owned house in Durham, North Carolina, on January 22. Saheeda Nadeem, 65, of Pakistan, left a Kalamazoo, Michigan, church this month. Edith Espinal, a native of Mexico, left an Ohio church after more than three years.In Maplewood, Pastor Becky Turner said Garcia has become a valued part of the church family.”The hearts of all of us at Christ Church are overflowing today,” Turner said. “God has answered our prayers for Alex Garcia to live freely, without the threat of being separated from his family.”Garcia’s exit came just two days after U.S. Representative Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, announced she was sponsoring a private bill seeking permanent residency for Garcia. Bush said Wednesday that she would still push the bill forward.”ICE has promised not to deport Alex, and we will stop at nothing to ensure that they keep their promise,” Bush said in a statement.Garcia fled extreme poverty and violence in Honduras, his advocates have said. After entering the U.S. in 2004, he hopped a train that he thought was headed for Houston, but instead ended up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a town of about 17,000 residents in the southeastern corner of the state.He landed a job and met his wife, Carly, a U.S. citizen, and for more than a decade they lived quietly with their blended family.In 2015, Garcia accompanied his sister to an immigration office for a check-in in Kansas City, Missouri, where officials realized Garcia was in the country illegally. He received two one-year reprieves during Barack Obama’s administration. 

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