The message was crystal clear: Jimmy Chérizier, Haiti's most powerful gang boss, forcing Prime Minister Ariel Henry to leave a ceremony in the capital, Port-au-Prince. But what broader motivations led to Chérizier making this show of force?
On October 17, Henry was scheduled to attend a ceremony commemorating the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, who reigned for two years as Emperor of Haiti from 1804 to 1806. However, the event was taken over by Jimmy Chérizier, alias "Barbecue," the G9 and Family (G9 and fanmi) gang alliance leader, who became its master of ceremonies. Dressed in a white suit, which The Guardian said was customary for government officials at national holidays, he laid a flower wreath for Dessalines surrounded by armed followers.
Henry tried to reach the site with his security team, but armed gang members opened fire and drove him away.
Chérizier also seized the occasion to show his loyalty to the former president, Jovenel Moïse, who was brutally murdered at the presidential palace in July. Gunmen surrounding him wore T-shirts with Moïse's face and the phrase "Justice for Jovenel."
SEE ALSO: Jimmy Chérizier, alias 'Barbecue'
The following day, Henry sought to dismiss the controversy, with a combative statement in which he pledged to restore "order, public safety and the authority of the State."
Henry himself has been suspected of involvement in the plot to kill Moïse. In September, he fired Haiti's chief public prosecutor, who wanted to indict him as part of the murder investigation.
This latest crisis is also happening as Haiti's kidnapping crisis has spiraled further out of control, with a group of 17 American and Canadian missionaries and their families being kidnapped last week. Chérizier has taken part in anti-kidnapping protests in the past but gangs of his G9 alliance have also been involved in this criminal economy.
InSight Crime Analysis
The prime minister fleeing from armed G9 gang members may be one of the clearest examples of how political factions on the island use the gangs to defend their interests.
One security analyst in Haiti, who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity for his safety, said that "behind Barbecue are those who were aligned with Jovenel Moïse, who want to avoid politicians from outside their circle gaining better positions in the current political system."
The consequences for Henry could be severe. "Stopping a reigning prime minister from honoring the death of Dessalines is a direct challenge to his authority. The fleeing of Ariel Henry sent one clear message: he didn't have the authority, or the leadership or the armed forces on that day," Eric Calpas, a researcher who has extensively researched on Haitian gangs, told InSight Crime.
According to him, the Moïse political faction and Chérizier's interests are currently aligned. The former do not want to see their political power further weakened, and the latter seeks to maintain his level of financing and his ability to influence certain decisions, he explained.
Since Moïse was assassinated in July, his allies have suffered several political setbacks. First, Claude Joseph, close to the former president, stepped down as prime minister in July under international pressure. The second came when Henry's Patriotic Unity party (Inite Patriyotik-Inite) signed a governance agreement in September 2021 with two opposition parties, essentially isolating Moïse's supporters from mounting a political comeback.
"A continued loss of political power among the allies of Moïse could lead to the break-up of the G9 gang alliance," said Calpas.
However, Chérizier's frequent appearances on social media have become increasingly political and may show that he is pursuing his own agenda. In September, he appeared on a YouTube video calling the G9 gang alliance a revolutionary movement. "We have decided to take over the destiny of the country. This means to free the country from the 5 percent of people who control 85 percent of the country's wealth," he said.