Gang leader Jimmy Chérizier

Image Source: Dominican Today

Will gang control of Port-au-Prince turn into long-term government?

By Ben Outar, News & Campus Life Staff Writer 

In the past few weeks, Haiti has undergone politically driven violence and power disruptions, with ramifications for nations across the Caribbean and the Americas generally. The small Caribbean nation–home to over 11 million people–has seen a violent uprising of gangs across the country, primarily in the capital Port-au-Prince, with violence, rape, and child recruitment appearing frequently in reports. They have effectively taken complete control over the ports and government of the nation, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry announcing his intention to resign on March 10th. He stated on social media that “[t]he government that I lead will withdraw immediately after the installation of [a transitional] council.” He had traveled to Kenya in search of UN-based aid for the situation domestically, but the power vacuum left in his absence allowed gangs to violently seize power and block his return. 

The current situation comes after a tumultuous three years of disrupted governance. In 2021, Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Recently, Al Jazeera reported that it is highly suspected that his former wife, along with the United States, was significantly involved, hoping to take his role in the future. Since then, his successor, Henry, and the interim Prime Minister have fought over power, with a vacuum of leadership throughout July of 2021, according to the Washington Post. Gangs have taken a much larger role in Haiti than ever before, forming unprecedented alliances in an attempt to fill the gap created after Moïse’s death. The two major gangs in Haiti, G9 and G-Pep, have major control over Haiti, with Partners in Health estimating that “up to 90% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by gangs.” 

Since March of 2024, the gangs have taken nearly complete command and escalated violence, leading to high death tolls, as well as the involvement of children in warfare, with young people being both victimized and participating in the gangs at high rates. Perhaps most unique to this situation is both the scope of gang control and goals. The leader of G9, Jimmy Chérizier, has attempted to secure himself as the next leader, currently taking a position as the pseudo-authority of the country on an international level. 

According to the BBC, he is a former police officer and has been linked to both civilian rights restrictions and creating shortages of food and water. While gang control is not new or unique to Haiti, it is distinctive for the gang leader to be seeking a place on the international stage. The gang leaders have stated of the situation in Haiti that “we’re not in a peaceful revolution. We are making a bloody revolution in the country because this system is an apartheid system, a wicked system,” in an interview with The Independent. Like Chérizier, much of the police force is also closely aligned with a gang, reinforcing their hold on the nation. Additionally, the police force itself has been severely thinned, as the New York Times reports that “the Haitian National Police force has seen about 3,000 of its 15,000 employees flee in the past two years. [T]he United States has poured nearly $200 million into the department.” 

This kind of foreign aid can be seen around the world, with Kenya hoping to send 1,000 military police this March. Canada and the United States are also highly involved in Haiti. The US has been pouring in money and weapons, and Canada is seeking to serve a historical population, with CBC emphasizing the “​​almost 179,000 Canadians of Haitian origin in the country, 87 percent of whom live in Quebec.” The Canadian government has additionally pushed in the past few weeks to evacuate Canadians in Haiti, stating in a press conference that “we are launching an assisted departure for the most vulnerable Canadians in Haiti,” via airlift, due to the shutdown of the Port-au-Prince airport. Since this announcement last week, there have been issues with the airlifts themselves, particularly caused by weather. 

This delayed the airlift departure to the bordering Dominican Republic, which has been labeled as a “green zone” for Canadians to land in when evacuating Haiti. Canada has attempted to maintain a diplomatic relationship with Haiti, stating that it “has contributed to stabilization and reconstruction efforts, including through the deployment of members of the Canadian Armed Forces.” Like the United States and other Western nations, Canada has invested heavily in the Haitian police force. However, that money has seemingly been misused, given the 20% desertion rate and gang alliance. 

Over the past few days, Chérizier has continued to speak publicly about the future of Haiti, a practice he has maintained since the beginning of their control. He stated in an interview with Sky News that he would be open to talks, stating that “If the international community comes with a detailed plan where we can sit together and talk, but they do not impose on us what we should decide, I think that the weapons could be lowered.” Amid the violence and power vacuum that exists today, who the next leader of Haiti will be can have long-lasting ramifications on not only the people of Haiti, but the rest of the Caribbean, and, consequently, Canada’s relationship with the country.

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