Haiti: Gang Leader ‘Barbecue’ Launches Insurrection Backed by 4,000-Man Prison Break

FILE - Leader of the "G9 and Family" gang, Jimmy Cherizier, better known as Barbecue, shou
AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File

The Haitian government declared a state of emergency on Sunday following days of street battles, two dangerous prison breaks, and an open declaration of insurrection by gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier. 

The state of emergency includes curfews throughout western Haiti for the next three days, during which the streets will be cleared from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. During the overnight hours, only police, firefighters, medical workers, and reporters will be allowed on the street.

A man stands near a burning tire during a demonstration against insecurity in Carrefour-Feuilles, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on August 14, 2023. (RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Cherizier, a former police officer and one of the most powerful leaders of the gangs that largely took over Haiti after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, said on Friday he is ready to fight until sitting Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been overthrown.

Cherizier told civilians to shelter in their homes while the insurrection rages. He asked all of the gangs to join together under his leadership and wage a campaign that would include the targeted kidnapping and assassination of government officials.

“The battle will last as long as it needs to. We will keep fighting Ariel Henry. To avoid collateral damage, keep the kids at home,” he said at a press conference.

“Today, I declare that the hunt for ministers and the Director General of the PNH, Frantz Elbé, is open. We must stop them and send them to join Ariel Henry where he is so that he never returns to the country,” he said. The PNH is the Haitian national police force.

“The Haitian people must be liberated. We will do it with our weapons. All the armed groups in the country, in the provinces and in Port-au-Prince, are more united than ever. We, the armed men, have decided to take the future into our own hands,” he declared.

Police officers take cover during an anti-gang operation in the Portail neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, a day after a mob in the Haitian capital pulled 13 suspected gang members from police custody at a traffic stop and beat and burned them to death with gasoline-soaked tires. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Chaos swept the capital of Port-au-Prince over the weekend, with heavy gunfire echoing through the streets, barricades blocking intersections, and burned vehicles clogging the streets. Squads of gang members reportedly attacked police stations and the main container port.

On Thursday, one of Haiti’s several police unions said four of its officers were killed by gangsters. A video posted to social media appeared to show two of the officers being murdered. Police union representatives called on the Henry government to recover their bodies.

Gang members stormed two prisons over the weekend, releasing over 4,000 prisoners. One of the prisons was in Port-au-Prince and its inmates included persons charged in the Moise assassination.

Sky News reported on Sunday that the doors to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince were hanging open, while the few remaining prisoners hid in their cells, fearful of being killed in the crossfire. Several dead bodies could be seen lying in the prison courtyard.

Cherizier is believed to have masterminded the prison breaks as a means of keeping government forces overwhelmed. The government said the 72-hour state of emergency was needed to round up the murderers and other violent criminals who escaped.

More gang attacks were reported at Haiti’s national soccer stadium and its international airport.

Police officers besiege the official home of the Prime Minister during a demonstration after the death of six police officers, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 26, 2023. - The attacks, which left six officers dead, occurred on January 25 in the town of Liancourt, when officers had to repel four attacks by the gunmen as they tried to take over the station, according to local news. (Photo by Richard Pierrin / AFP) (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Police officers besiege the official home of the Prime Minister during a demonstration after the death of six police officers, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 26, 2023. (RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. embassy in Haiti issued a security alert on Sunday advising all U.S. citizens to leave the country “as soon as possible.”

“U.S. citizens wishing to depart Port-au-Prince should monitor local news and information on security conditions from commercial transportation providers and should arrange to leave Haiti when security conditions permit doing so,” the embassy said.

Telecom provider Digicel said service was cut across much of Port-au-Prince on Saturday, but most of the lines were restored by Sunday afternoon. Digicel Chairman Maarten Boute thanked the “brave technicians who worked tireless, in very precarious conditions, to make this possible.”

At least 15,000 people reportedly fled the Haitian capital during the outbreak of violence, flooding into several already crowded camps for internally displaced people.

The new wave of violence appears to have been sparked by Prime Minister Henry leaving the country for meetings on foreign soil, including a regional summit in Guyana and a visit to Kenya to arrange an international police intervention. Kenyan President Willian Ruto signed a bilateral agreement to assist Kenya on Friday, but it must still be ratified by the Kenyan parliament.

Cherizier explicitly stated that one of his goals is to make it impossible for Henry to return to Haiti. Opposition politicians blamed Henry for creating chaos by refusing to step down as promised on February 7 and hold elections. Henry said in Guyana that he could not commit to holding elections before August 2025 due to the unstable security situation.

Opposition leader and former acting prime minister Claude Joseph told the BBC on Monday that Henry’s determination to “stay as long as possible in charge” has plunged Haiti into a “nightmare.”

“He agreed to step down on 7 February. Now he decides to stay, despite the fact that there are huge protests throughout the country asking him to step down – but it’s unfortunate that now those criminals are using violent means to force him to step down,” Joseph said.

Retired U.S. diplomat Luis Moreno warned on Monday that the Haitian police are “overwhelmed, and have broken up into factions themselves,” leaving the general public defenseless while “elite families” and businesses hole up behind private security.

Moreno said the situation has deteriorated beyond the point where “five thousand troops could go in there and squash everything and be in total control in 72 hours.”


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