The deteriorating security situation in Haiti was harshly underlined on Sunday when the country’s Prime Minister and his security agents were forced to flee an official commemoration in the capital by heavily armed gang members who then marched in place of the Delegation.
A day after a dozen American missionaries and their children were kidnapped in a brazen attack east of the capital Port-au-Prince, a video circulating on social media and reports in Haitian media showed the country’s most notorious crime boss, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, officiating at the commemoration ceremony for the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of the founding fathers of the Haitian revolution.
The annual ceremony in the Pont Rouge district of Port-au-Prince marks the assassination of Dessalines in 1806 after defeating a Napoleonic army and abolishing slavery in the new black republic.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his security guards reportedly attempted to reach Pont Rouge to lay a wreath on Sunday, but were repulsed by armed gang members firing their guns.
Video of the event showed several official SUVs apparently leaving Pont Rouge amid the crackle of gunfire as other figures fled the scene on foot.
Subsequent photos showed Cherizier, a former police officer and notorious leader of the G9 and Family gang alliance, wearing a white suit and an off-collar shirt – the dress code for officials on public holidays – with his armed supporters making the floral offering.
Among Cherizier’s armed supporters were a number of T-shirts featuring the face of the late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, assassinated earlier this year, and the slogan “Justice for Jovenel”.
While Pont Rouge has been a bastion of gangs and a lawless area in recent years, Sunday’s protest – the 215th anniversary of Dessalines’ death – was seen as a provocation and a show of force in just 24 hours. after the high-profile kidnapping of American missionaries on a bus en route to the airport.
Cherizier, who has been accused of supplying gang muscle to the former Haitian president who was shot dead at his home by a squad that included Colombian mercenaries, has been under sanctions from the US Treasury for his alleged involvement in the La Saline massacre in 2018 while he was still a policeman on duty, along with two of Moïse’s officials.
According to the US Treasury website: “Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in brutal and coordinated attacks in neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.
“More recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in several neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince in which civilians were killed and houses burned down. “
The latest gang-related incident in the increasingly turbulent Caribbean state came as police continued to search for the 17 Western hostages held by another gang, the 400 Mawozo, which operates east of Port -au-Prince.
Haiti’s gangs, which have grown increasingly powerful and aggressive amid growing social and political unrest, have long been associated with political parties and leaders for whom they provide deadly force.
Cherizier, in particular, has been associated with the Haitian Tet Kale de Moise Party and has been viewed by some observers as a maneuver in the vacuum left by the high-profile murder of Moïse.