Violence has increased in the Haitian capital in recent weeks to what the United Nations has called “unprecedented levels” as rival groups fight with each other or with the police for control of the streets, displacing thousands of people and exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis.
Jimmy Cherizier, alias Barbecue, former police officer, heads the so-called “G9” federation of nine gangs formed last year.
Surrounded by gang members wielding machetes and rifles, he made a statement to local media in the slum of La Saline on Wednesday, claiming that the G9 had become a revolutionary force to deliver Haiti from the opposition, the government and the Haitian bourgeoisie.
Human rights activists say Cherizier is not targeting the government but the opposition.
The government did not publicly comment on his statements and was not immediately available for comment.
Suspected of several massacres of citizens in recent years, among other crimes for which he was sanctioned at the end of last year by the United States, Cherizier presents himself as a community leader filling the void left by the weakness of the institutions.
Cherizier said members of his gang launched the looting of several stores in Port-au-Prince last week, and the general population followed suit because they were hungry.
“It’s your money that’s in banks, stores, supermarkets and dealerships, so go get what is rightfully yours,” he said in comments that went viral on social media. Haiti.
Armed groups have become increasingly powerful in Haiti in recent years due to political unrest, growing poverty and a sense of impunity, said human rights organizations like the Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research.
Presidential and legislative elections slated for later this year could be a factor in the recent increase in violence committed by gangs often linked to local politicians, they said.
Haitian police are not equipped to deal with gang members who have acquired increasingly sophisticated weapons, funded in part by kidnappings for ransom.
Many officers have died in clashes with gunmen in recent months, including one in a brawl with Cherizier last weekend, police said.
The violence is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in a country in which nearly half of the population faces “acute high” food insecurity, according to the United Nations, and coronavirus infections are on the rise.
The president of the Supreme Court of Haiti died Wednesday of COVID-19 even though the country has not yet started its vaccination campaign.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said earlier this month that the displacement “created a host of secondary problems, such as disruption of social functioning at the community level … forced school closures , loss of livelihoods and general fear among affected populations.