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‘We don’t kidnap, we don’t rape, we are fathers’: Haiti gang steps in to fill gap left by political failure | World News

Arriving in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, the scale of poverty is breathtaking.

The streets are teeming with people, but everywhere is shrouded in acrid smoke from heaps of burning rubbish.

From the hills above Port-au-Prince, the city is at times drowned in a haze of polluted air.

Wherever you go, people ask for money. Beggars trudge among the crowd, unemployment is high, and the kidnapping of anyone – not just the rich – causes constant fear.

Gangs control 60% of all capital.

Most of the city is a no-go zone, it’s just too dangerous to enter the hundreds or so gangs that operate here.

The police seem powerless to break up the gangs. They patrol in masks, armed with machine guns, but do little to stop the rise in crime, which has risen sharply in recent years.

Civil society was crushed by political failure.

The government has no elected officials; the country is run by politicians without a mandate and with little or no popular support.

A cholera outbreak is raging in the slums of Port-au-Prince and millions of people are starving.

    The G9 is one of about 95 gangs fighting for dominance in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The G9 is a coalition of gangs fighting for dominance in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is facing an almost unprecedented level of banditry.  Peak Dominique Van Heerden
A “No Weapons” sign is painted on the wall outside the health center in the G9 area.

Haiti did not really recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010. I was there then and returned to the years gone by.

Every time I am shocked that instead of getting better, it gets worse.

This country is falling apart and there is no security system. The twisted reality is that the gangs stepped in to fill the gap.

They offer work, protection, and security to those who welcome them.

I went to meet one of the leaders – he’s probably the most famous, and he’s certainly the most vociferous.

Through many alleys I was led to his fortress, surrounded by armed men in hoods who did not want to show their faces on camera, I was introduced to a man known as “Barbecue”.

Barbecue is actually Jimmy Cherisier, a former cop turned gang leader who is the acknowledged mouthpiece for a coalition of gangs called the G9.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherisier survived four assassination attempts.

Folklore says that his nickname comes from the way he treated his victims; his friends say it’s because his mom ran a fried chicken stand and he’s had the nickname since childhood.

Anyway, when he pulled out the big diamond earrings and handed his revolver to the mobster before we could shoot, I decided I didn’t want to find out which story was closer to the truth.

Barbecue asked us to first sit down for an interview before he walked me through his grounds, almost in the center of Port-au-Prince.

He describes the G9 as a group of armed young men and women with an ideology designed to change the lives of those who live in Haiti’s notorious slums.

The Caribbean country has been bad for years and now there is no elected control authority at all.

Police patrols in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.  Peak Dominique Van Heerden
Police patrol but can’t seem to break the grip of the gangs

Some countries are actively considering sending foreign soldiers to restore order, but Barbecue warns that this will only lead to disaster.

“If we have an intervention, the international community understands enough to sit down and have a normal conversation with everyone,” he told me.

“But if they try to solve it with guns, I think a lot of people in the slums could die, and they will kill mostly innocent people, not the guilty.”

Barbecue is a born politician.

Many here are wondering why, in apparent moments of political vacuum, he did not climb the steps of the presidential palace and take control.

I’ve been told by well-connected commentators who think he could have seized power, but he didn’t have two different options.

‘Barbecue’ says G9 wants to improve living conditions for people in slums
The leader of the G9 is constantly accompanied by armed guards

He is under sanctions by the UK and its allies for “engaging in activities that threaten the peace, security and stability of Haiti.”

“I would like at least one person to prove what I am accused of,” Barbecue told me. “I fell victim to lies.”

There is a perception among the Haitian elite that Barbecue is actually a pawn of a higher power.

He denies this and says that he is a man of the people and that there are 12 million people in the G9 territory. “We took up arms to change the lives of those less fortunate in the slums, we said it would change their lives, we don’t use guns to kidnap people,” he insisted.

It is known that the G9 BBQ is not part of the overwhelming number of kidnappings taking place in Haiti today.

“We do not kidnap or rape. We are all fathers, we have sisters, aunts, we have children. I myself have a daughter – I could never allow rape to happen around me.

“We don’t kill for money, but we have weapons to protect ourselves because we can’t let others kill us.”

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In the middle of our conversation, his guards a few meters up the road started lounging and laughing loudly, he jumped out of his seat in a matter of seconds.

His anger was evident as he ordered them in no uncertain terms to shut up. He returned to his seat and apologized.

During the hours that we were with Barbecue, he was constantly accompanied by these guards armed with machine guns.

He survived four assassination attempts.

A man lights candles at an altar set up for police officers killed by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 30, 2023.  REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol.
A man lights candles in memory of police officers killed by armed gangs. Photo: Reuters

As we walked through his neighborhood, people came up to greet him – some shaking their fists, others shaking his hand, many just staring.

He distributes money and bounty. It’s hard to explain, but this place is like a castle and inside the BBQ is a king.

He sees himself as a revolutionary fighting against the dark corruption of the government and business oligarchs, but he is the leader of a gang. And his land, like all other gangs, is always under attack.

In some parts of his territory, his enemies are only one wall away.

We watched as he inspected his fighters at the forward barricades. Some of them are just cinder block walls with gaps through which you can shoot.

On other streets, sheets and blankets are hung across the roadway to hide the view of enemy snipers. The last time I saw it was in Aleppo, Syria.

Make no mistake, Port-au-Prince is a war zone.

But the irony is that when we filmed, we were safer in G9 territory than on most metropolitan streets, where kidnappings, murders, and rapes are endemic. And this is what every person lives with here every single day.

Photo: Dominique Van Heerden/Toby Nash/Reuters

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