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Haiti is falling apart and there is no safety net – the perverse reality is that gangs have filled the gap

The sheer poverty of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince takes your breath away when you arrive.

Although the streets are full of people, everywhere is covered in thick smoke from burning rubbish piles.

The city disappears sometimes from the hills above Port-au-Prince.

People will ask you for money wherever you go. Beggars are found in the middle of the crowds. Unemployment is high, and it is not only the rich who are at risk.


60% of all capital is controlled by gangs

Many areas of the city are no-go zones. It’s too dangerous to venture into the territory of the gangs that operate there.

The police are unable to stop the gangs. The police are seen wearing masks and carrying machine guns. However, they have little effect on reducing the rising crime rate.

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Political failure has crushed civil society.

There are no elected officials; the country’s leaders are politicians who have no mandate and receive virtually no support from the people.

Port-au-Prince is experiencing a cholera epidemic, and millions of people are hungry.

Image The G9 coalition is made up of gangs fighting for dominance in Port-au-Prince
Image An ‘no guns’ sign is painted on the wall at the G9 territory health clinic.

Haiti still has not recovered from the devastating earthquake of 2010. I was there that day and have been back in the years since.

Every time I look at it, I am shocked that instead of getting better, it is getting worse.

The country is in disarray and there is no safety net. It is a sad fact that gangs have stepped into the breach to fill it.

They provide security, work, and protection to all who receive them.

I met one of the leaders. He’s undoubtedly the most well-known and most vocal.

I was led through a multitude of alleyways to reach his stronghold. Surrounded by hooded, armed men who didn’t want to be photographed, I was then introduced to the man I call ‘Barbecue.

Jimmy Cherizier is the man behind Barbecue. He is a former cop and is now the gang boss.

Image Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier survived four assassinations

Folklore has it that his nickname comes from how he treated his victims. His friends believe it is because his mom ran a fried chicken stand and he has had the nickname since childhood.

However, he was wearing large, diamond-encrusted earrings and passed his revolver on to a gunman before I could film. I was unable to decide which story was closer to the truth.

Barbecue asked that we sit down first for an interview, before he took me around his territory. It is located in the middle of Port-au-Prince.

G9 is described by him as a group consisting of young, armed men and women who have an ideology to improve the lives of people living in Haiti’s notoriously poor slums.

This Caribbean country has been in trouble for many years, and there is no elected controlling authority.

Image The police patrol the area but are unable to free the gangs

Barbecue warns that some countries may be considering sending in foreign troops to enforce order.

He said that if there is an intervention, the international communion is understanding enough to sit down with everyone and have a decent discussion.

“But they should try to solve it with guns, but I think that many people living in slums will die, and they will kill most innocent people more than the guilty.”

Barbecue is a natural politician.

Many are asking why he hasn’t taken control of the presidency palace in the obvious times of political vacuum.

According to well-connected commentators, he had two opportunities. But he failed to seize power.

Image G9 says ‘Barbecue” to improve conditions in the slums
Image G9’s leader is constantly escorted by armed guards

The UK and its allies sanction him for “engaging with acts threatening to the peace, security, and stability of Haiti”.

Barbecue said to me, “I would like one person prove what they are accusing of me of.” “I am the victim of a lot of lies.”

There is a belief among the Haitian elite that Barbecue is actually a pawn of a greater power.

He claims he is a man for the people and denies that he has. He insisted that he took up arms to improve the lives of the poor in the slums.

Barbecue’s G9 has not been linked to the mass kidnappings in Haiti.

“We don’t kidnap and we don’t rape. All fathers are brothers, sisters, aunts and have children. I am a father to a daughter and I would never allow rape to occur around me.

“We don’t kill for money but we have guns to protect ourselves because we can’t allow others to kill us.”

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He was chatting with his guards about halfway through the chat when they started laughing and messing around a little.

He was clearly angry and told them to stop complaining in no uncertain terms. He sat down and apologized.

These machine gun-toting guards escorted Barbecue throughout the time we were together.

He survived four assassinations.

Image: A man light candles to honor police officers who have been killed by armed gangs. Pic by Reuters

We walked through his neighborhood, and people approached us to say hello – some fist pumping, others shaking hands, and many simply staring.

He is generous with money and other goods. This place is like a castle, and Barbecue is its king.

Although he sees himself as a revolutionary against dark corruption in government and oligarch businessesmen, he is actually a gang leader. His land, like all other gangs, is constantly under attack.

His enemies can be found in some areas of his territory.

As he checked on his fighters at the frontline barricades, we watched. Some have gaps that allow them to fire through the breeze block walls.

To block enemy snipers’ view, blankets and sheets are hung across streets to cover other streets. This was something I last saw in Aleppo (Syria).

Port-au-Prince, it is clear, is a war zone.

Ironically, though, filming was safer in G9’s territory than it was on many streets of capital, where kidnapping and murder are common. This is something that every person here lives with every day.

Pictures: Dominique Van Heerden/Toby Nash/Reuters


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