In the capital Port-au-Prince, which waits with a shrinking soul for the consequences of the assassination of its president, there is only one nationality with more risk than being Colombian, and that is Syrian or Lebanese.
While the assassination of Jovenel Moïse is being investigated and the detainees are questioned, the street is abuzz with rumors and fears. The most recent stopped being that, a rumor, to become a real threat when the head of all the criminal gangs in the country, Jimmy Barbecue Cherizier, appeared on YouTube reading a statement in which he promises revenge against a group of powerful families of Arab origin. “We are going to go out to the streets to ask the Syrian-Lebanese who are holding this country hostage to give us back our country (…) It is time for curly-haired blacks like us to be owners of supermarkets, dealers of cars and bank owners ”, he threatened open-faced, dressed in a military jacket and two superimposed caps.
Barbecue, as he is known among Haitians, is a former policeman who more than a year ago achieved something unprecedented: bringing all the criminal gangs in the country to an agreement and forming the G9 federation, an organization that extorts, robs and kidnaps the population and he attacks opposition policemen and politicians whom he accuses of having joined the “stinking bourgeoisie” to “sacrifice” Moïse last Wednesday. “It was a national and international conspiracy against the Haitian people,” he said in the video, which circulates from phone to phone, in front of a Haitian flag. “We tell all the bases to mobilize and take to the streets to shed light on the assassination of the president.”
Cloaked in a political discourse that promises to bring justice to the poor and end the “masters of the system,” Barbecue represents many of the ills that Haitians have suffered for years. Although he presents himself as the savior of the streets, he symbolizes the accelerating decomposition of the country that began with the pandemic and continues with the assassination of the president. To the power vacuum, Barbecue adds hatred to a group of families of Arab origin located in the Petion Ville area, who traditionally control the country’s economy and are part of the “group of oligarchs” indicated by Jovenel Moïse before he died.
Accused of orchestrating massacres that have killed dozens of men, women and children, the latest massacre of 15 people in late June killed several officers, randomly chosen passersby, a journalist and a human rights activist.
The day Barbecue announced the creation of the alliance of criminal gangs, in July 2020, he also appeared on YouTube along with his “Family and allies of the G9” marching triumphantly through the streets of the capital accompanied by several gang leaders and dozens of men armed. Since then, Barbecue has expanded its power and controls Delmas, Cité Soleil, La Saline, Martissant or Fontamar, where most of the million inhabitants of Port-au-Prince live. Human Rights Organizations point to G9 gang members of looting and burning premises, shacks or food stalls, systematically raping women or randomly murdering and dismembering and burning bodies with the intention of making it clear who is the master of the capital .
Barbecue’s rise reminds Haitians of sinister figures such as the bloody Luckner Cambronne, leader of the Uncle Macoute, who did not hesitate to hang and char in the plaza anyone who dared to threaten the power of the Duvaliers during the 60s and 70s. Or, more recently, Guy Phillpe, the feared paramilitary who wrapped in burning tires anyone who tried to stop his advance during the uprising against Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
One of the doubts is who will be able to stop the uprising. Haiti requested help from the United States to protect “strategic points” but at the bottom lies the fear and inability to confront an army of heavily armed thugs, which has gained firepower thanks to the growing drug trafficking business, with a police poorly equipped who earns less than $ 300 a month and who in Moïse’s time protested low wages even by burning her own vehicles.
The violence has caused the internal displacement of more than 17,000 people, according to data last month from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Before Barbecue launched its threat, the United Nations office in Haiti expressed its concern about the “resurgence of violence” and organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, which carry out vital work in a context of health crisis, had to temporarily close his hospital in Martissant, after suffering an armed attack his facilities, located in the war zone disputed by the armed groups of Grand Ravine and Ti Bois.
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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.