Haitian prime minister forced to flee official ceremony after armed gangs appear

The incident highlights the deteriorating security conditions in Haiti’s capital

The deteriorating security situation in Haiti was starkly underlined on Sunday when the country’s prime minister and his security detail were forced to flee an official commemoration in the capital by heavily armed gang members who then paraded in the delegation’s place.

A day after a dozen US missionaries and their children were kidnapped in a brazen attack to the east of the capital Port-au-Prince, video circulating on social media and reports in the Haitian media showed the country’s most notorious crime boss, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, officiating at the ceremony to commemorate the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of Haiti’s revolutionary founding fathers.

The annual ceremony in the Pont Rouge area of Port-au-Prince marks where Dessalines was assassinated in 1806 after defeating a Napoleonic army and abolishing slavery in the new Black republic.

On Sunday, the prime minister, Ariel Henry, and his security detail reportedly tried to reach Pont Rouge to lay a floral wreath but were driven back by armed gang members firing their weapons.

Video from the event showed several official SUVs apparently leaving Pont Rouge amid the crackle of gunfire as other figures fled the scene on foot.

Later pictures showed Cherizier, a former policeman and notorious head of the G9 and Family gang alliance, dressed in a white suit and shirt with a wing collar – the dress code for officials on national holidays – with his armed followers making the floral offering.

Among Cherizier’s armed supporters were a number wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the face of the late Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated earlier this year, and the slogan “Justice for Jovenel”.

While Pont Rouge has in recent years been a gang stronghold and no-go area, the demonstration on Sunday – the 215th anniversary of Dessalines’ death – was seen as a provocation and a show of strength barely 24 hours after the high-profile kidnapping of the US missionaries in a bus en route to the airport.

Cherizier, who has been accused of providing gang muscle for the late Haitian president who was shot down in his home by a hit squad which included Colombian mercenaries, has been under US Treasury sanctions over his alleged involvement in the 2018 La Saline massacre while he was still a serving police officer, along with two of Moïse’s officials.

According to the US Treasury website: “Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods.

“Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.”

The latest gang-related incident in the increasingly turbulent Caribbean state occurred as police continued to search for the 17 western hostages who are being held by another gang, the 400 Mawozo, which operates to the east of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s gangs, which have become increasingly powerful and aggressive amid mounting social and political unrest, have long been associated with political parties and leaders for whom they provide deadly muscle.

Cherizier, in particular, has been associated with the Parti Haitien Tet Kale of Moise and has been seen by some observers as manouevring into the vacuum left by Moïse’s high-profile murder.


Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Haitian ambassador warns criminal gangs may overrun country
Armed gangs have shut off access to Haiti’s main fuel terminal, decimating basic services amid a cholera and hunger crisis

Julian Borger in Washington

30, Oct, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Haiti prosecutor calls for prime minister to be charged over president’s killing
Ariel Henry, 71-year-old neurosurgeon, became country’s leader in July, two weeks after assassination of Jovenel Moïse

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

14, Sep, 2021 @6:16 PM

Article image
‘Incredible cruelty’: gang battles leave 150 dead in Haitian capital
Scores wounded as violence paralyses Port-au-Prince forcing thousands to flee their homes

Joe Parkin Daniels

13, May, 2022 @10:30 AM

Article image
Haitian leader’s assassination remains a mystery: ‘We may never know’
Authorities are still struggling to understand the motives and masterminds behind first killing of a Haitian president since 1915

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá and Tom Phillips

16, Jul, 2021 @7:55 PM

Article image
‘They have no fear and no mercy’: gang rule engulfs Haitian capital
Violence has spread from the poorest slums to the city centre as up to 200 gangs carve up Port-au-Prince

Luke Taylor

18, Sep, 2022 @10:10 AM

Article image
'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians
Damage to part of Unesco world heritage site is emblematic of uncaring government, critics say

Michael Deibert

17, Apr, 2020 @11:45 AM

Article image
Haitian cops are poorly paid and outgunned – and part of the problem
The country’s police force is in revolt after the government failed to protect them from criminal gangs that have overrun the country

Luke Taylor

02, Feb, 2023 @11:30 AM

Article image
‘Women’s bodies weaponized’: Haiti gangs use rape in spiraling violence
Haitian women and children face brutal rapes, torture, kidnapping and death amid gang violence, reports the New Humanitarian

Jess DiPierro Obert in Port-au-Prince

14, Nov, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Haiti government prepares to ask for ‘specialized armed force’ from abroad
Prime minister authorized to ask international community to help end blockade of main fuel port that has led to crippling shortages

Staff and agencies

07, Oct, 2022 @10:11 PM

Article image
‘It’s hell’: vigilantes take to Haiti’s streets in bloody reprisals against gangs
Members of terrorised Port-au-Prince communities armed with rocks and machetes carry out wave of lynchings

Tom Phillips, and Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince

30, Apr, 2023 @10:15 AM