The 400 Mawozo (400 Lame Men) gang is currently the largest active criminal group in Haiti. Led by Joseph Wilson, alias “Lanmò San Jou”, the gang has managed to consolidate its power in Croix-des-Bouquets, a hugely important neighborhood and criminal hotspot north of Port-au-Prince, as well as other parts of Haiti.
It rose to fame by kidnapping 17 Western missionaries in 2021, but it has carried out thousands of other kidnappings among the Haitian population.
Even though little was known about the 400 Mawozo gang before 2019, when gang clashes involving this group started being reported in Haiti, this criminal group was created in 2016 and has been expanding significantly since 2018, a security analyst told InSight Crime.
Gang experts consistently cite the 400 Mawozo as the country’s most worrying criminal organization. While the gang has many components common to criminal groups in Haiti such as high-powered weaponry, participation criminal economies, and political connections, it stands out for being very innovative.
The 400 Mawozo began using “express kidnapping” on a major level in the country. Since about 2020, the gang has sent small groups of men on motorcycles, targeting people located on main roads or on public transportation. The victims are released after a few days after a small ransom is paid as this kidnapping model is based on scale and not high ransoms.
Joseph Wilson, alias “Lanmò San Jou,” is the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang. Lanmò San Jou, which translates to “death has no appointed time,” is wanted by the national authorities to answer charges of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and vehicle theft.
The second-in-command is Germine Joly, alias “Yonyon.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018, after he was accused of kidnapping, forcible confinement for ransom, rape, armed robbery, murder, illegal possession of a firearm and criminal association to the detriment of a twenty people. Another important lieutenant, alias “Gaspiyaj,” was killed in November 2021 in a shootout with authorities.
“With over 1000 members scattered around the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the 400 Mawozo is said to even have a waiting list of potential youngsters who want to enroll,” said Eric Calpas, a gang researcher on the island who has worked with InSight Crime.
The 400 Mawozo gang is largely focused on collective kidnapping. They were responsible for the abduction of 17 American and Canadian citizens, including five children in October, 2021. Even though at first the victims appeared to have escaped their captors, new information suggests that they were released after a mystery donor contributed to the ransom of $1 million per person.
Haiti police inspector Frantz Champagne also blamed the 400 Mawozo for the kidnapping of seven clergy members, including two French citizens in April last year. The gang asked for a $1 million ransom for their liberation. They were all released a week later, but it is unknown whether the ransom demand was met.
But religious groups are not the only victims. According to Haiti’s Human Rights Analysis and Research Center (Centre d'Analyse et de Recherche en Droits de l'Homme - CARDH), in the past, 400 Mawozo has also specialized in the extortion of businesses, hijacking of trucks and other kinds of illegal trafficking along the border with the Dominican Republic.
The 400 Mawozo criminal activities have largely been concentrated in the municipality of Croix-des-Bouquets, located in the outskirts of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. However, their presence has also been reported in the municipalities of Ganthier, Thomassseau and Fonds-Verettes.
The 400 Mawozo recently established a permanent presence in Canaan, a suburb located in Croix-des-Bouquets that connects to the only route leading to the north of the island. Calpas explained that this group intends to expand to other parts of the metropolitan area of Port au Prince by surrounding the capital.
According to a security analyst consulted by InSight Crime, the 400 Mawozo has established presence in the border point of Malpasse, across from the Dominican Republic, as well. This source also explained that control over these territories gives 400 Mawozo the opportunity to influence the elections of four national deputies, control 64 voting stations and the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, where many of its members are behind bars.
In addition, their presence in the border with the Dominican Republic gives them access to criminal activities that take place in this area, such as contraband, human smuggling, human trafficking, arms trafficking and drug trafficking.
Allies and Enemies
InSight Crime has not identified alliances or rivalries involving 400 Mawozo. However, according to the CARDH, they have sent ammunition to the Village de Dieu gang in Port-au-Prince. In addition, it is likely that small armed groups in the suburb of Canaan have attached themselves to the structure of 400 Mawozo, contributing to the expansion of the group.
The involvement of the 400 Mawozo in lucrative criminal economies gives this group the financial muscle to recruit more members and arm them. Their large and strategic geographic presence not only provides the gang with access to potential kidnapping victims, but also businesses to extort.
The expansion of the 400 Mawozo indicates that it likely has secured the political influence needed to maintain its control, as other gangs such as the G9 have done. The gang controls the only route connecting Port-au-Prince to the north of Haiti, meaning it can choose whether to allow the passage of goods and people. Yet there has been no major crackdown on the group so far. One former Haitian government official told InSight Crime on condition of anonymity that “there are 400 Mawozo wearing suits and ties.”