By Onz Chery
Earlier this month, the United States Department of the Treasury sanctioned gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier and two former members of President Jovenel Moïse’s administration for being part of the team that orchestrated the La Saline Massacre in 2018.
For scores of Haitians, the sanctions announcement felt hollow.
“The murder of people in La Saline, of people in Grande Ravine, this only brings one set of sanction? That’s justice?” said Phineus Roc Jean Gaillard, a sophomore at the University of Haiti (UEH). “When I heard that, I laughed. Three people? Why would Barbecue care if he gets sanctioned and can’t go to the U.S.?”
Cherizier, who was a police officer at the time, led the massacre in which at least 71 residents were murdered and over 400 homes destroyed in November 2018, officials have said.
The two other government officials were sanctioned for providing firearms, state vehicles and police uniforms for the massacre. One of them, Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, is in Florida, Pierre Esperance, a prominent human rights leader, said on Radio Magik9. The other one, Fednel Monchery, has not been arrested either.
Cherizier doesn’t seem bothered by the sanction. In one recent Facebook Live, Cherizier said Esperance has brought him international renown. Then, Cherizier started making the sound of a donkey.
Ten massacres occurred in Haiti in November 2017, said Esperance, general director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH). But it’s the first time recently that the U.S. government has openly stepped up to help Haiti instill justice — even if only barely.
Esperance sees this as the first sign that Haiti policy might change after President-elect Joe Biden sets foot in the White House. He hopes other actors, like Haiti’s President Moïse, might also get sanctioned for his alleged role in inciting insecurity.
“This decision [the sanctions] means they will reach President Jovenel, they will reach the national palace,” Esperance said on Magik 9.
Samuel Madistin, president of human rights group Fondasyon Je Klere (FJK), said the sanctions won’t prevent Cherizier from committing further wrongdoings and that it’s up to Haitian National Police to arrest him.
“For three years, the U.S. has been supporting all the criminal activities the Haitian government has been doing,” Madistin said. “When human rights organizations are releasing reports, declarations this can change public opinions in other countries.”
Residents also point to widespread reports, such as RNDDH’s findings, that other government officials were involved in the La Saline plot. Among the names are Haiti’s First Lady Martine Moïse, Roudolphe Saint Albin, then minister of the interior, and Dr. Greta Marie Greta Roy Clement, then minister of public health and population.
Also, Cherizier is on Haiti police’s most-wanted list wanted list. Yet, he casually goes live on Facebook regularly, shows the surroundings of his location and has said he stays in Delmas 6. Further, more than 50 police officers reportedly belong to the G9 Family and Allies gang, according to Esperance. Cherizier is G9’s leader.
Because PNH is unwilling to arrest him, human rights experts labeled the police force — and the government — as his accomplices.
However, U.S. sanctions aren’t completely futile in addressing corruption in Haiti, Madistin said. The sanctions could impact Haiti’s government officials morally, when they know that other countries are aware they have failed to protect their citizens.
Still, people like Gaillard are left wanting more action to prevent gang violence from rising every few years.
And since the roots are deep, advocates say, the long-term solutions must prioritize preventing political gangs through dialogue between opposing officials, job creation and ceasing the illegal shipments of guns to Haiti.
“I don’t want the U.S. to do it for us,” Gaillard said. “We’re independent and it wasn’t the U.S. who gave us our independence. There’s no government in Haiti, we only have the people and only we have the power, only we can do what needs to be done.”