Speed Reads

crisis in haiti

Haitian gang leader calls on followers to use 'legitimate violence' to protest president's assassination

The lull in gang violence that came in the wake of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's assassination is now over, with Port-au-Prince's most powerful gang leader, Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, calling on his followers to take to the streets and "demand justice" against this "cowardly" attack by "foreign mercenaries in the country."

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and before Moïse's assassination last week, was already in turmoil. There have been protests for months over inflation and food shortages and government corruption, with deadly gang violence an ongoing issue — hundreds have been killed in Port-au-Prince alone this year. 

After Moïse was gunned down inside his home, people in Port-au-Prince mostly stayed off the streets, and the gangs also seemed to retreat. On Saturday, Cherizier, who leads an alliance of gang leaders called the G9 Family and Allies, released a video appealing to supporters, saying it was time to get back out there, as they need to liberate Haiti. His followers must "practice what we call legitimate violence," he said. "If they shoot on us, you know what to do. You are not children."

He also told business owners of Syrian and Lebanese descent to leave, because they are holding Haiti "and its economy hostage," The Washington Post reports. It's time, he added, "that folks who look like us own supermarkets in this country. It's time that we own car dealerships and banks."

The gangs in Port-au-Prince are blocking roads that lead to the southern part of Haiti, which has disrupted commerce and the transport of gasoline. A journalist living in the Martissant neighborhood told the Post that it's long been a gamble to leave home, and residents know they "can be a victim at any time. Anyone who chooses to take the road knows there are three possibilities: Either you die, you're wounded, or you get home safe."

Since Moïse's assassination, it's believed that more than 13,000 people have fled their homes in Port-au-Prince, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, and on Saturday, hundreds of Haitians went to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince's Tabarre neighborhood to ask for asylum.