GameChangers 2021: Barbecue, Gangs and Political Power in Haiti

GameChangers 2021: Barbecue, Gangs and Political Power in Haiti

As the high-profile assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse pushed Haiti further to the bottom after decades of failed foreign intervention, a controversial former police officer-turned-gang leader quickly mobilized to try to fill the void of power left behind.

Jimmy Chérizier, aka “Barbecue”, is a complicated individual. For some, he is a Robin-Hood figure who gives voice and support to those most marginalized and neglected by the national government. For others, he is a former police officer implicated in one of the worst massacres the country has ever suffered, who has since become the country’s most important gang leader.

What is clear is that Chérizier has become a key intermediary in the power struggle that followed Moïse’s assassination in early July, when a team of armed men stormed the then-president’s home, shooting at him, killing and wounding him. seriously to the then First Lady Martine Moïse. .

SEE ALSO: Is Organized Crime Related to the Assassination of the President of Haiti?

Little clarity has emerged from the subsequent investigation into the masterminds and financiers of the murder. But weeks after the massacre shocked the entire country, Chérizier took advantage and led a procession of followers through the streets of the Lower Delmas district of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to pay tribute to Moïse.

And while the outward show of support showed a certain level of power and control, Chérizier still has a fight on his hands.

* A criminal winner is an organization or person that has made great strides in its criminal objectives despite tremendous odds or against the odds; changed the underworld through some form of ingenuity, alliance, or other means; it established unprecedented power or hegemony; or otherwise illustrated tremendous criminal and / or corrupt feat.

Barbecue’s fight to consolidate its criminal control

The announcement was first broadcast on social media in early June 2020. Dressed in a light blue suit and striped tie, Chérizier broadcast that a coalition of nine gang leaders operating in the capital had come together to form the which he called the “G9 an Fanmi”. (G9 and Family), an alliance of about a dozen armed gangs.

In theory, the alliance consolidated gang power around Port-au-Prince, with the help of political connections to the Moïse administration. In May 2020, just before the alliance ended, government officials allegedly paid a gang leader in an opposition stronghold to switch sides and join the Chérizier federation.

That month, allied gangs would continue to carry out a series of targeted attacks that left dozens of people dead in an attempt to seize greater territorial control. The police did not intervene, according to reports from local human rights groups, leading to the belief that the G9 also had links to the highest levels of the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d’Haiti – PNH).

Despite the seemingly tacit government support the G9 enjoyed, in the months that followed, it struggled to secure control, quell ongoing disputes, and break previous alliances.

“It was never the strongest alliance,” said Eric Calpas, a gang investigator with extensive experience in Haiti. “The G9 is made up of many groups, who were previously enemies, so they came to the G9 convinced that joining together would allow them access to unlimited government funds.”

The vulnerability of the alliance was evident. Just one month after its formation, an eight-month-old baby died during clashes between the G9 and the leader of a rival gang in the capital’s Cité Soleil district. Later that year, in the same district, Gabriel Jean Pierre, alias “Ti Gabriel”, created a different gang alliance known as the Gpèp, which sided with the political opposition and became a fierce enemy of Chérizier and the G9, as the alliance tried. fight for control of Cité Soleil.

But the Gpèp is not the only competing criminal group to rival the G9. The 400 Mawozo have quickly become one of the fastest growing gangs in Haiti, exercising control in Croix-des-Bouquets, outside Port-au-Prince and along the border with the Dominican Republic. The gang has become known for its use of targeted abductions, including that of various members of the clergy and 17 citizens of the United States and Canada in 2021.

As the G9 struggled to contain external incursions, internal divisions also devoured the fragile alliance. Undoubtedly, in mid-2021, the Grand Ravine gang launched an attack in the Martissant neighborhood against its former allies in the Ti Bwa gang, whose leaders were both former G9 allies.

Around the same time, Chérizier’s official ties seemed to be breaking. In another video message, he called for a revolution both against the opposition and against President Moïse’s Tèt Kale Party (Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale – PHTK).

“We see that the country has been kidnapped by a small group for more than 40 years. This group distributed weapons in the popular neighborhoods, it encourages us to fight… for the benefit of their interests ”, he accused.

Chérizier went on to call “the poor, those considered bandits, the oppressed”, to join the G9 and fight because this “system of exploitation and inequality has reached its limits.”

Only two weeks after this proclamation, Moïse would be assassinated in his room, his body riddled with bullets and an eyeball ripped out. There is no evidence to suggest that Chérizier or the G9 had anything to do with the murder; it was too sophisticated an operation. Moïse had made his fair share of enemies since winning the 2016 election and then clinging to power.

However, in the absence of Moïse, the G9, and the Chérizier in particular, entered a new era.

A new order

Moïse’s murder marked a turning point for Chérizier and his criminal career. Despite losing his once most important political ally, he took advantage of the power vacuum to break the implicit pact between the country’s political elites and gangs and challenge the top-down structure.

“If Moïse were still in power today, the G9 would have been much stronger than it is today,” Calpas, the gang expert, told InSight Crime. “[Moïse] it was a key element in building the G9 as a major armed actor in the political arena. “

But even in Moïse’s absence, Chérizier continued his efforts to show the power he still enjoyed. During a ceremony in mid-October to honor the slain revolutionary leader Jean Jacques Dessalines, it was Chérizier, not the acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who laid a wreath at Pont-Rouge to mark the anniversary of his death.

Flanked by supporters wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with Moïse’s face that read “Justice for Jovenel,” Chérizier also presented a framed portrait of the fallen president. Henry had tried to join the commemoration, but armed gang members allied with Chérizier and the G9 opened fire on his security team and expelled him from the event.

Chérizier’s G9 Alliance and other armed gangs in Port-au-Prince also exercised their strength in other ways. Kidnappings skyrocketed, aid convoys providing supplies to those devastated by an August earthquake were rocked, and crucial deliveries of fuel and water to hospitals were halted for weeks.

“The areas under the control of the G9 are blocked for one reason only: we demand the resignation of Ariel Henry,” Chérizier said in a radio interview in October. “Yes [Henry] he resigns at 8 am, at 8:05 am, we will unblock the road, and all the trucks will be able to pick up fuel. “

This ability to spread terror and strangle essential supplies appeared to be part of a larger plan by Chérizier to influence the political fabric of the country. He also called on the United Nations and the United States government to sever ties with the current administration, something that many other Haitians and local civil society organizations have also urged. A temporary gang truce was subsequently called to open the flow of fuel, though Henry remains prime minister for now.

While in the past, gangs accumulated greater power with the political connections they managed to secure, Chérizier demonstrated that he could remain just as powerful without them, or by relying less on them, while continuing to impact the political, economic and security dynamics of the country. country.

Yet, behind the scenes of Chérizier’s takeover, Haiti’s criminal landscape was also beginning to reorganize. Gang members allied with the G9 fought, sought new alliances, and pursued enemies in rival gangs like the Gpèp.

In downtown Port-au-Prince, some members of the G9 Alliance competed with each other to control the capital’s many open-air markets, which move a large amount of goods and money and, as a result, are often targeted by gangs. for the proceeds of extortion.

Despite gang conflicts, they all share a common interest in building relationships with whatever administration is in power. This contact gives them access to money, impunity, weapons, and the ability to move around Port-au-Prince without being arrested by the police.

Barbecue as electoral king?

Long before Moïse took office, Haitian politicians had struggled to incorporate the country’s armed gangs into their strategy to bolster electoral support and ultimately ensure victory in the legislative and presidential elections. Moïse continued with that arrangement and, with the creation of the G9, brought it to its current peak.

Without a doubt, there is little doubt that Chérizier is the most powerful gang leader in Haiti at the moment. As such, it is likely to play a role in influencing the upcoming elections, as its G9 alliance allows it to control a wide swath of territory that is home to the largest number of polling stations in the country.

“[The] gangs are on the brink of [becoming] a proto-state. Controlling an average of 60 percent of the territory and armed with modern weapons and a lot of money, the gangs are getting stronger and trying to unite the vulnerable population to their ’cause’, “according to an October report by Haitian Human Rights Analysis. And Research Center (Center d’Analyse et de Recherche en Droits de l’Homme – CARDH).

Aspiring candidates will almost certainly need to secure Chérizier and the support of the G9 to be elected, giving him an unprecedented level of power at his side. For the 2022 elections, Calpas said that the role of gangs will depend on two things: whether the police are able to respond adequately to the risk they pose and whether the government wants to move forward with the election in the current context of vast territorial control. of gangs.

“All the armed groups position themselves in terms of control of the territory,” Calpas said. “The G9 and the Gpèp have the greatest territorial control, and if they maintain that configuration, [Chérizier] it will have influence in the next elections. “

Chérizier built himself up as a powerful criminal figure with considerable influence largely due to his political connections and expanded further after Moïse’s assassination. As things stand now, no matter who is in power in the future, Chérizier has almost secured a seat at the negotiating table.

This ability to make himself indispensable in the face of chaos and adversity makes him InSight Crime’s 2021 criminal winner.

* A criminal winner is an organization or person that has made great strides in its criminal objectives despite tremendous odds or against the odds; changed the underworld through some form of ingenuity, alliance, or other means; it established unprecedented power or hegemony; or otherwise illustrated tremendous criminal and / or corrupt feat.

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