- Gang leaders in Haiti are calling for a country-wide uprising in opposition to political leaders.
- Haitian activists say gangs typically exploit political instability or influence local elections.
- Some warn that, unchecked, a coalition of gangs could stifle any transition in government.
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The murky details surrounding Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination left a vacuum of conspiracy theories and speculations.
Prime Minister Claude Joseph says it was “a highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group.”
At least 28 people are suspected in the killing, of which 26 are Colombian, and two are US citizens of Haitian descent. So far, 20 of those suspects have been detained while five remained at large, and three have been killed.
A Florida-based Haitian doctor was arrested in connection to the president’s assassination, although his family now claims he’s being framed. Still, the murder of the divisive political figure left even more uncertainty, political instability and empowered gang alliances behind.
Days after the announcement of Moïse’s murder, one of Haiti’s most influential and protected gang leaders, Jimmy Cherizier – known locally as “Barbecue” – called for a violent uprising for justice and reparations from elite politicians.
“It is your money which is in banks, stores, supermarkets and dealerships, so go and get what is rightfully yours,” he told supporters last month, – shortly after the former police officer turned leader of the “G9” gang announced he was launching a revolution against the country’s bourgeoisie.
G9 is a federation of nine gangs that include former police officers and community members. Last year, it was formed as a “revolutionary” force that claims to be not against the government, but its opposition. Business men, political elites, and former Haitian president, Michel Martelly, are known targets.
Many of G9’s victims, as well as activists, have revealed that members have, “looted and burned down shacks and stalls, systematically raped women, killed at random, and dismembered or torched bodies” and is one of at least 30 gangs that control nearly half of Port-Au-Prince.
Anti-government corruption activists in the country and throughout its diaspora say it’s no surprise foreign leaders would exploit Haiti’s political instability now.
—Marlene Daut (@FictionsofHaiti) July 11, 2021
“Whenever a movement seems to be starting, the [gang] violence resurges,” activist Olrich Jean Pierre told Woy Magazine. “Today it is more dire because the government has used the federation of gangs to create panic, and to stop people from mobilizing.”
According to Le Centre d’Analyse et de Recherche en droits, more than 150 assassinations and nearly 200 kidnappings have been recorded in Haiti since June, including feminist activist Antoinette “Netty” Duclair and journalist Diego Charles.
The number of abductions that targeted poor and working-class communities also increased by 150% compared to the year prior.
“This is the first time we have gangs with such a large power,” Rosy Auguste Ducena, program manager at Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, told Insider.
“The gangs are impacting life in Haiti. Today, there are several areas where we don’t go because of the gangs,” Ducena explained.
“If we have an election in September, for instance, the candidates will not be able to campaign in some areas, even in Port-au-Prince,” she added.
Like many of the country’s gang leaders, Barbecue’s power and influence are financed by political elite, including Moise’s right-wing political party.
In 2019 US Congressional testimony, the director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, Pierre Espérance, confirmed that the gangs “regularly receive money and automatic firearms [from executive and legislative powers], and they never run out of ammunition.”
Ducena adds that instead of reinforcing the police institution, President Jovenel Moïse invested in gangs. In return, his government had earned allies who implemented a strategy to gain political support and repress the opposition, spiking insecurity.
Activists say throughout the Moïse regime, the government relied on gangs to control territories and protect their party. But mismanagement, foreign interference, and lack of accountability further pushed locals into armed groups, making them more powerful over time.
“The government used the federation to remain in power and to establish a climate of fear in the country. They succeeded,” said Ducena.
Opponents take it a step further, suggesting that Moïse was never fully in control of Haiti once gangs and foreign parties became involved. Instead, it launched a state of fear.
As for what is to come next, Ducena would like to see “a government of transition with a clear mandate but not only a transitional government for elections.”
“What we also need is to find the answers to our problems without foreign intervention of any type,” she said. Or the exploitation of meddling, politically connected gangs.
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