- Guillermo D. Olmo
- BBC News World
In a lawless country, he imposes his.
The most feared crime boss in Haiti is called Jimmy Cherizier, although it is better known as Jimmy “Barbecue”.
According to him, because his family ran a grilled meat business; According to some witnesses of Haitian violence, because it usually burns the houses and bodies of its victims.
Although he started out as a police officer, today is the leader of the so-called G-9 and Family, an alliance of some of the most dangerous gangs in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Along with other powerful criminal organizations, including the 400 Mawozo – the gang blamed for the recent kidnapping of a group of 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti – the G9 and Family have contributed to the chaos that has gripped the country. Caribbean, aggravated after the assassination last July of its president Jovenel Moïse.
The disappearance of the leader seems to have angered “Barbecue”, who now threatens to throw his organization into a “revolution “against the” corrupt “political elite of the country.
Born in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, neither sanctions that the United States has imposed against him, nor has any authority in his country served so far to stop him.
From police to criminal
Already in his days as a police officer, Cherizier crossed the line between the two sides of the law.
He is credited with participating in the deaths of nine civilians who fell in the framework of what was presented as an official operation against the mafias in Grand Ravine, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, in November 2017.
According to Jeremy McDermott of the organized crime research center Insight Crime, “The Haitian police are penetrated by elements of the gangs and there are groups that act outside the law”.
The first gang in which “Barbecue” emerged as the ringleader of the underworld was Delmas 6, which took control of several areas of Port-au-Prince.
According to some international reports, Cherizier benefited from his collusion with members of the Moïse government to gain power and influence.
Pierre Esperance, director of the Haitian NGO National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, told BBC Mundo that “criminal gangs are better equipped than the police and have the protection of the authorities.”
A report by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Group published shortly before Moïse’s assassination said that during his presidency, “armed gangs are carrying out, with the approval of the State, atrocious attacks against civilians in impoverished neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.” in an attempt to “crush dissent”.
The Moïse government denied any relationship with criminal gangs.
BBC Mundo sent a request for comment to Moïse’s party, but received no response.
The drug trafficking, the hijacking of fuel shipments, which is scarce in the country, and other crimes, made possible the rise of the Cherizier organization, which today is financed mainly thanks to extortion.
“Crimes against humanity”
Cherizer is credited with a role in three massacres in recent years that killed hundreds in some of the most deprived areas of Port-au-Prince.
Cherizier has denied his involvement in these events. Joey Bui, a lawyer and one of the authors of the Harvard report, told BBC Mundo that “he was involved in the three attacks as a leader.”
“It is widely known that he was the one who perpetrated these massacres, but he has never responded to the authorities,” adds the expert. Esperance concludes that “in Haiti there is total impunity for gangs and there has never been an effort to capture or bring to justice those responsible for the killings.”
The government of United States sanctioned a Cherizier in 2018 for its role in civilian deaths.
According to Harvard experts, the killings in which he is implicated meet the conditions to be considered crimes against humanity and to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The first of them took place in November 2018 in La Saline, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that had been very active in protests against the Moïse government.
Between November 13 and 14, a 14-hour assault was carried out in which the victims, including children, were taken from their homes and executed at gunpoint or machete point. At least 71 people died and 11 women were raped.
A year later, the neighborhood of Bel-Air, which had erected barricades and blocked streets in the context of protests across the country, suffered a similar onslaught from armed groups linked to Cherizier. The balance was at least 24 dead.
Police did not go to the scene despite alert calls from residents, leading many to suspect official collusion.
The last and largest of the killings occurred between May and July 2020, when the criminal alliance of the G9 and Family had already been formed, in Cite Soleil, a very poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. At least 145 civilians were killed, several women were raped and many houses burned in what residents interpreted as retaliation for their rejection of the government.
According to Bui, “Cherizier has never paid for what he did.”
Witnesses say that even after an arrest warrant was issued against him, security forces handed him aid packages for distribution in the neighborhoods under their control.
What is Cherizier up to now
The assassination of Moïse, in whose presidency he extended his power, has changed the landscape for Cherizier.
Now he lavishes on appearances on social networks, from which he launches appeals against Prime Minister Ariel Henry, the man who assumed the government after the death of Moïse with the commitment to hold elections as soon as possible.
His detractors accuse Henry of being behind the plan to kill the president, although there is no evidence of this and the investigation to clarify the assassination continues, and Cherizier leads the chorus of those who have declared war on him.
Haiti must carry out new elections to resolve the power vacuum and the institutional crisis, both aggravated by the assassination, but insecurity and the power of the gangs have made that objective impossible for now.
According to McDermott, “it can be said that Haiti is today a Failed state and the police are heavily infiltrated by the underworld. ”
In this context, “the risk is that criminal groups try to occupy political spaces.”
With his calls for “revolution”, his tirades against politicians and his attempts to present himself as a benefactor of the neighborhood communities controlled by his hosts, “Barbacoa” shows signs of flirting with that idea.
But others rival criminal groups of his G-9 and Family could have the same objective and transfer to politics their usual confrontations in the streets of a country where violent deaths occur almost daily.
McDermott concludes: “Our concern is that under the current circumstances it is virtually impossible for any honest politician to campaign in Port-au-Prince and most other parts of the country. ”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.