Haitians in desperate need of help succumb to the growing power and influence of gangs

In the video, more than 30 men are seen standing in silence in front of a crumbling structure. As they stand with their heads bowed, a man walks in front of them and takes a sip from a small glass. One of them exclaims, “There will be trouble at Port-au-Prince!”

Haitians in desperate need of help succumb to the growing power and influence of gangs

Nearby, assault weapons are stacked against a wall and two dozen handguns scatter on the ground. Two large buckets are full of bullets.

These men are fresh recruits to one of Haiti's most notorious street-gangs. The footage shows their induction into the criminal underworld, which increasingly controls the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The video's title, "400 Mawozo" is inscribed on it. This refers to the gang that police claim is responsible for numerous killings and kidnappings.

This gritty online video shows the incredible power of Haitian gangs, as they take over more land and commit more crime than ever before. Their gripping power on society is threatening the country's fragile economy and social fabric.

James Boyard, a professor of political science at Haiti State University said that "the situation is out of control." He, along with other experts, also accused politicians and business owners for funding gangs. They made them too powerful. They are now terrorized. They had no idea that things would spiral out of control as they did.

Port-au-Prince is home to more than 2.8million people. Gangs control as high as 40% of the city. One street may be owned by one group, but another group could own it the next day. A brief alliance may be formed between two leaders who have previously fought each other before they become enemies again.

Although there are many gang names, such as Krache Dife and Torcel, Baz Pilot, 5 Secondes, and 5 Secondes, experts estimate that only 30 gangs are well-established in the capital and its surrounding areas. Jimmy Cherizier (a former officer in the police force), is believed to be the leader of G9 Family and Allies, a federation made up nine gangs.

The state of Haiti's economy and political situation, as well as the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, have all affected the level of gang violence. The country is still reeling from President Jovenel Moise's July 7 murder and the August 7.2 earthquake that claimed more than 2,200 lives.

These two events temporarily stopped some gang activity. However, kidnappings have increased in recent weeks. According to the U.N. report, at least 328 kidnappings have been reported to Haiti's National Police within the first eight months in 2021. This compares with 234 for the entire 2020. Integrated Office Haiti.

Martissant is the most prominent example of the gangs' power. It connects Port-au-Prince to the south and is home to at least three warring factions. According to Le Nouvelliste, the violence has escalated to such an extent that many Haitians make hour-long detours from the area to avoid it.

Martissant's abandoned police station has bullet holes and naked men with covered faces watch over torched cars to make sure no one comes.

A gang attacked an ambulance in July and shot a nurse. Doctors Without Borders had to close Martissant's clinic due to gang violence the following month. A group of armored police cars tried to cross the area on Saturday and were shot at. For the remainder of the day, the body of a civilian was left on the ground.

Up until recently, turf wars were usually between gangs with civilians often caught in the crossfire. In November 2018, 70 people were killed at La Saline, a Port-au-Prince seaside slum currently managed by the G9 Federation, whose leader was involved in the mas.

"Retaliation started increasing... so they began going after civilians," stated a senior international official, who was not authorized to talk to the media. Gang confrontations now make no distinction between civilians and gangs.

Kidnappings are the same. They have taken hotdog vendors, priests and schoolchildren hostage for ransom.

Experts believe that a lot of this activity is caused by poverty in a country where 60% earn less than $2 per day and millions are hungry.

Boyard stated that "Gangs are a solution, perhaps the only way out,"

The country's GDP fell to -3.3% last fiscal year, which is the largest drop since the devastating 2010 earthquake that resulted in a drop of -5.7. Enomy Germain, a Haitian economist, stated that the Haitian gourde has declined more than 50% and that inflation is still above 10%. This has reduced purchasing power.

Germain stated that this situation is similar to that which followed the coup in 1991 that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Experts believe that Aristide is responsible for the current gang phenomenon. They claim that Aristide returned to power in 1994 and disbanded his army. He then began arming people living in the slums. Many of these were Catholic priests.

Gang recruits can start as young children as 6/7 years old and reach high-ranking positions by their teens. Very few survive beyond 30. Many members refer to themselves as "soldiers." James, an armed man who identified himself as James, said that he was a mechanic who joined the Baz Pilat Gang "to protect the Ghetto from rivals that invade to steal and kill and rape."

The country's economy is also hampered by gangs blocking major transportation routes and gas distribution terminals. This prevents goods from flowing through Haiti. Many gas stations are now closed for days.

Delmy Belmon (44-year-old manager at hardware store) said, "I live in a chaotic land." His children, aged 9 and 12, are too young to go outside and understand the situation.

He said, "Whenever they are in a car, they look right and left. And when motorcycles approach the vehicle, I can sense they are afraid."

As Haiti prepares to hold presidential and legislative elections next year, violence is likely to increase. According to a top international official, political groups have been known for their long-standing practice of paying gangs.

The official stated that any gang was open to negotiation and purchase.

Haiti's police force has approximately 9,000 officers, which is a fraction of what would be required to patrol a country with more than 11,000,000 people.

Gangs are more numerous than police and have more weapons. They killed at least four police officers and injured several others in an anti-gang raid that took place in the Village de Dieu slum.

Police marched through the streets demanding the bodies of their colleagues were returned days later. They were part of Fantom 509, a disgruntled section that has been accused in killings, setting fire to buildings and storming jails to release their comrades.

Boyard stated that some officers of Haiti's National Police have connections to gangs. He said that they support them and tell them when to go out, how to move, and when to go back in.

A spokesperson for Haiti's National Police didn't return a message seeking comment.

Andre Apaid is a Haitian businessman and owner of a large textile business. He declined to comment on whether he pays gangs, but said that he coexists with violent and criminal structures to survive.

Germain stated that gang activity is "a poison to an economy." "If we don't have security and if people are kidnapped daily, if freight trucks get hijacked by gangs every single day, if enterprises are unable to freely perform their activities, then it is impossible to talk about economic recovery."