Barbecue, whose real name is Jimmy Cherizier, is carried by a resident in his neighborhood in Lower Delmas, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, May 24, 2019. ( Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

This story is part of a special investigation into Haiti’s gang crisis and potential solutions. To view the full series visit our special section, Gangs in Haiti: A deeper look.

Dictionary definitions of “gang” say it’s “a group of people acting together to do something illegal.” But as “gangs” are blamed for the rampant violence, turf wars and armies of young men toting automatic rifles around Haiti, some observers have suggested that these groups should be categorized under more serious terms. Doing so, they said, could be the starting point to address — in more realistic ways — the devastation those groups have wrought in Haiti.

Georges A. Fauriol, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), suggests that Haiti may soon be better referred to as a “criminalized state,” a concept described by strategic researchers Douglas Farah and Marianne Richardson in a May, 2022 paper titled  “Gangs No More.” 


As the violence on Haiti’s streets attributable to “gangs” reaches unprecedented levels, The Haitian Times digs into four answers to the question so many Haitians ask — “How do we get rid of these gangs?” This installment provides a view of why and how redefining Haiti’s formal status as a state might unlock more support, including new investments, to wrest the country from gangs.

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J.O. Haselhoef is the author of “Give & Take: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti.” She co-founded "Yonn Ede Lot" (One Helping Another), a nonprofit that partnered with volunteer groups in La Montagne ("Lamontay"), Haiti from 2007-2013. She writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.