The ability and willingness of Haiti’s gangs to choke off fuel and water, seemingly at will, is enhancing their influence as they push the country to the brink.
On October 31, after weeks of uncertainty that have seen hospitals across the island virtually suspend services, there was a glimmer of hope. Several crucial hospitals were supplied with fuel, allowing them to run their generators. A few gas stations in Port-au-Prince also opened for business once again.
However, this trickle of fuel only served to show how the country is at the mercy of the gangs. For over two months, the gangs that control Port-au-Prince have blocked roads leading to oil terminals and have interrupted fuel deliveries by abducting truck drivers. This has almost completely halted the supply to gas stations.
On October 27, Haiti’s interior minister, Liszt Quitel, rallied police officers to create a corridor for fuel trucks to reach the port of Port-au-Prince. Quitel’s convoy was met with automatic weapons fire, and the drivers refused to proceed.
In recent days, a senior business figure appeared to lay bare the demands made by Haiti’s leading gang boss, Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue,” to lift the blockade set up around the country’s port and gas infrastructure.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Youri Mevs, a political strategist whose family owns the country’s largest industrial park, Shodecosa, said Chérizier demanded that $500,000 be paid every month to his G9 gang alliance. Should this be refused, the park would be ransacked, and the port terminal owned by the Mevs family, Terminal Varreux, where a lot of gas is imported, would continue to be blockaded.
Chérizier, who regularly speaks to the international press, has categorically denied the claim, returning to a familiar refrain in which he is a man of the people, standing up for the rights of the underprivileged.
However, Chérizier has admitted having the power to solve the gas crisis. His price: the resignation of Haiti’s interim prime minister, Ariel Henry. A week ago, he stated that “the areas under the control of the G9 are blocked for one reason only – we demand the resignation of Ariel Henry. If (Henry) resigns at 8 a.m., at 8.05 a.m., we will unblock the road, and all the trucks will be able to go through to get fuel.”
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While the gasoline crisis is the latest reflection of the power amassed by Haiti’s gangs, the problem stretches far beyond fuel.
According to Guyto Édouard, director-general of Haiti’s National Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DINEPA), gang violence threatened water distribution in early June. This would be critical, given the poor water supply in gang controlled parts of Port-au-Prince, such as Bolosse and Martissant.
Édouard stated that gangs destroyed at least one water pumping station in Roche Blanche, in Croix-des-Bouquets, north of the capital.
International aid, upon which Haiti depends, is also at risk. Following the devastating August 14 earthquake, criminal gangs held up aid shipments that passed through a chokepoint in Martissant, a region through which all traffic moving south from Port-au-Prince must pass and an area long contested by various criminal groups.
SEE ALSO: Truce or No Truce: Gangs in Haiti Control Aid Movement
This effectively severed access to essential aid for the rural communities that survive in the mountains of the southern Tiburon peninsula. The flow of aid only resumed once Barbecue announced a ceasefire on August 22.
Haiti’s allies and neighbors are growing increasingly concerned. Ships carrying aid from Mexico have been fired upon, preventing them from offloading their cargo. The Dominican Republic has mobilized troops along the border to prevent Haitians from buying large quantities of gas there and smuggling it back across.