By Jacqueline Charles

Earlier this month, a fired policeman wanted in the slaughter of dozens of men, women and children in one of Haiti’s most impoverished slums donned a three-piece light blue suit and red tie, sat in front of a rolling video camera, and announced a new alliance among nine gang leaders.

Congratulating the gang leaders on their “exemplary work,” Jimmy Chérizier, who is known by the alias Barbecue, said the G-9 and Family and Allies coalition was neither created for the “government nor to work for the opposition.”

“It’s a group of young men and women who have put their heads together,” said Chérizier, 43, who fashions himself as a community leader seeking to protect his Delmas 6 neighborhood and others from rival gang attacks. “We, in the ghetto, have never benefited from anything. Tell me, what professional school is there inside Wharf Jérémie? I want you to tell me what professional school is there inside TiBwa… What good hospital is there inside Cité Soleil? Inside Simon Pelé?”

To some, Chérizier’s public pronoucement of the neglect of some of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods and their continued exploitation by multiple Haitian governments and those seeking office — “They utilize the ghetto every time they want to seize power,” he said at one point — is on point. 

Yet for human rights observers, the new gang coalition is a worrying development in a country besieged by armed confrontations between rival gangs and some of the worst violence the country has seen in years despite a 15-year U.N. peacekeeping operation.

The absence of the state in Haiti’s slums has long allowed the commission of human rights violations, and a lot of the recent attacks have been linked to Chérizier, whose arrest warrant dates back to February 2019. The warrant was for his alleged involvement in the November 2018 La Saline massacre, where as many as 71 people were killed. Witnesses identified Chérizier, who was still a cop, along with two government officials as perpetrators of the attack.

He was again singled out, this time in a United Nation’s human rights report on an attack against the Bel Air neighborhood, a year later.

Despite it all, an emboldened Chérizier, a 14-year veteran of the Haitian police force before his December 2018 firing, continues to walk free. 

“They say we are working for the PHTK [political party] and [President] Jovenel Moïse. It’s a lie,” he said in the video. 

But even as he tries to present himself as a polished, well-spoken activist and not a bandit, he tells journalists in a second video: “The battle to change Haiti can only be fought by two people, the slums themselves and the armed gangs.” 

And that thinking, say human rights observers, makes Chérizier a powerful protagonist in an unfolding drama involving desperate politicians, corrupt cops, sporadic armed attacks on opposition strongholds and Haiti’s upcoming but yet unscheduled elections.

Criminal gangs, already linked to kidnappings for ransoms, rapes and multiple massacres, are becoming guns for hire for Haiti’s political forces, two Port-au-Prince-based human rights organizations conclude in two separate reports issued this week. 

Protected by politicians and specialized elements of the Haiti National Police, the gangs are terrorizing working-class and poor neighborhoods, extorting businesses and battling rivals for expanded territory as they repress dissent. 

And it is all being done in collusion with the government, which is not only seeking to hold on to its tenuous grip on power but control the outcome of the next elections, the human rights organizations say. 

“The government wants to have control over all of the gangs,” said Marie Yolène Gilles, the executive director of Fondasyon Je Klere, which issued its 15-page report on Monday. “Parallel to that, the power in place also wants to come up with another constitution. It wants to weaken the opposition so that it cannot use the popular neighborhoods like La Saline, Saint Jean Bosco to do its [anti-government] mobilizations. The government also wants to do elections with a new constitution in the coming days.”

And Moïse, Gilles said, wants to be able to make a public outing on Oct. 17 to the historic neighborhood of Pont-Rouge without the chorus of automatic gunfire that greeted him and his presidential entourage in 2018, and forced them to flee. continue reading

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