10 March 2024 in Geopolitics, Home


A demonstrator holds up an Haitian flag during protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, March 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Haiti has been plunged back into chaos for a few days now: there are dead bodies in the streets, cities put to fire and sword, buildings and police stations set on fire, fires everywhere: fuelling the clashes are the notorious gangs of criminals who, since 29 February, have unleashed a crazy wave of armed violence and now control 80% of the country. In a coordinated attack in the capital of Port-Au-Prince, in addition to the presidential palace, they stormed the Ministry of the Interior, the headquarters of the western police district[1] and the prisons, freeing almost 3800 prisoners, including the murderers of former president Jovenel Moïse. Haiti’s airport has been closed as the army tries not to let it too fall into the hands of the gangs, while the main port – a key point for food imports – has been looted, despite efforts to create a security perimeter[2] .

The Caribbean country of just over 11 million inhabitants has been experiencing a very serious humanitarian crisis for several years now. Leading the gangs is former policeman Jeremy Chérizier, nicknamed ‘Barbecue’ because of his predilection for arson attacks, who has become the leader of a kind of cartel called G9 that brings together at least nine powerful criminal groups in the capital, and who has friendly relations with other outside gangs from which he obtains support when necessary. Thanks to his past as a policeman, Barbecue has strong ties with one of Haiti’s most powerful political forces, the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK) party, as well as with the police leadership.

Jeremy Chérizier is threatening to start a full-blown civil war, which he says will result in genocide if Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry does not step down. In 2021, the then Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in very controversial circumstances. Ariel Henry took power without going through democratic elections, although he promised to hold them, according to an agreement reached in 2021, by 7 February 2024. However, the promise is broken: Henry decides to postpone the elections until mid-2025[3] .

Barbecue is far from clear in his political plans. What is certain is that in the past he has repeatedly encouraged Haitians to join the fight against Harry, whom he considers a usurper, and plans to create a sort of council of elders with representatives of civil society to lead the country. This is a difficult proposal to implement, given that the people behind it are gangs that have been responsible for years of atrocious violence, including rapes of women and children, contract killings and kidnappings for extortion – all horrors that are the norm in this devastated country.

The increase in the intensity of the clashes and violence even seems to find favour with a small part of the population, which apparently supports the gangs, while the vast majority of the citizens, due to the conditions created by the constant insecurity and political instability, live in conditions of severe destitution and despair: in the past week alone, 15,000 Haitians, including many women and children, have fled the country. The flight is the result of desperation and is therefore not organised, it is without a destination, towards the unknown, which risks being just as atrocious.

G9 gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier and his humankind[4]

In his statements to the press, Barbecue offers a very determined self-image, appears armed wearing a bulletproof vest, and issues ultimatums: ‘Either Haiti becomes a paradise for everyone, or we will make it hell for everyone’. The international community, under pressure from humanitarian organisations, is trying to make diplomatic efforts to finally encourage the holding of elections, to facilitate a transition between Henry and his successor – something that could be the only useful step to calm the clashes.

On Thursday 8 March, Caribbean leaders called for an emergency meeting on Monday 11 in Jamaica to address the ‘dire’ situation in Haiti. They invited the US, France, Canada, the UN and Brazil to the meeting[5] . Everything is at a stage of total uncertainty, one would have to proceed with a negotiation between very determined actors who are not at all inclined to negotiate. Moreover, there is a risk of having to make concessions to the gangs, which, even if with the urgent aim of stopping the violence, could have very dangerous results, because it would mean giving recognition to their role, investing them with institutional responsibilities and giving them legitimate power. A dangerous precedent.

The US is currently pressurising Henry to offer concessions to the gangs, but denies having asked the interim president to resign, even though this would appear to be the most immediate strategy to stop the violence. Meanwhile, the US State Department seems intent on sending a FAST platoon (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team), a special unit composed of highly trained Marines, to quell the riot[6] . Last October, after months of delays, the UN Security Council gave the green light to a Kenyan-led multinational police mission, but the decision was blocked by the Kenyan courts[7] .

The chaos broke out while Prime Minister Henry was visiting Kenya: a pretext to trigger the violence. He is still in a kind of forced exile, as airports are blocked and it is not possible for him to return to Haiti. Henry had made a stopover in New Jersey and is now in Puerto Rico, having been unable to land in the Dominican Republic (bordering Haiti) because of the airspace closure. The office of Dominican President Luis Abinader states that ‘Henry, for security reasons, is not welcome in the Dominican Republic’. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has closed its land border.

From Port-au-Prince comes news of terror and chaos, and the return of the president would not improve the situation. It is a situation with no way out, as the country’s economy is on its knees and the only income is remittances from expatriates – many of whom are militiamen of the gangs that have replicated their ferocious criminal gangs in neighbouring countries and in the United States of America.


[1] https://newsukraine.rbc.ua/news/massive-gang-riots-in-haiti-us-considers-1709996064.html

[2] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/03/10/world/haiti-capital-under-siege/

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chaos-unfolds-in-haiti-as-caribbean-leaders-call-an-emergency-meeting-monday/

[4] https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/03/06/haiti-ariel-henry-gang-violence-puerto-rico-jimmy-cherizier/

[5] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chaos-unfolds-in-haiti-as-caribbean-leaders-call-an-emergency-meeting-monday/

[6] https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2024/03/07/elite-marine-security-team-deploys-to-haiti-amid-gang-crisis/

[7] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/03/10/world/haiti-capital-under-siege/

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