International efforts to help Haiti since the devastating August 14 earthquake continue to be hampered by gang violence, with reports now emerging that ships carrying emergency aid from Mexico were fired upon.
At a press conference on September 8 in Mexico City, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that aid ships sent to Haiti had not been able to dock and unload all the goods.
“Shots were fired, we had to anchor the ships and wait for better conditions. We had trouble disembarking goods because the gangs have taken almost all of Haiti,” he said. Later, the aid began to be unloaded but disturbances started once again and the ships had to pull back a second time. López Obrador added that he would discuss with the US government how to best get aid where it needed to go in Haiti.
And in the neighboring Dominican Republic, President Luis Abinader has sent a clear message to Haitian gangs who might have ambitions to enter the country. “We…have precisely identified who are the people who lead those Haitian gangs…and we recommend that they do not cross the border because they will be confronted by the Armed Forces,” he said in a radio interview on September 2.
This mounting international outcry comes as gangs have pressed the advantage.
The earthquake worsened insecurity in a country still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.
After a brief lull, kidnappings have soared once again, with senior government officials and military personnel being targeted. A gang truce brokered to allow aid convoys to leave Port-au-Prince and reach earthquake-hit areas is looking flimsy. And gangs are acting as de facto authorities in parts of the country, including sections of the capital, controlling access to hospitals and markets, enforcing tight curfews and driving thousands from their homes.
InSight Crime Analysis
Until a few months ago, Haiti’s gangs were seen as a highly dangerous but domestic problem. But the expansion of their criminal governance has now been so rapid that other countries are right to take notice for several reasons.
First, Haiti’s gang leaders are expanding their power base and gaining outsized influence on matters of state. Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue,” a former police officer who became the island’s most powerful criminal figure, has positioned himself to take advantage of Haiti’s power vacuum. In June, ahead of Moïse’s assassination, Chérizier called for the gang alliance which he runs, known as G9 an fanmi (G9 and family), to become a revolutionary force against the government, the opposition and the bourgeoisie. On September 3, his ambitions became even clearer. After two days of violence in Port-au-Prince blamed on the G9, Chérizier released another video, calling for the prime minister to resign and stating that “any political battle aims to take power.”
At the moment, neither the G9 alliance nor smaller, localized gangs have a clear means of force projection abroad, especially in such a complex criminal landscape as the Dominican Republic.
But, second, rising violence is fuelling the exodus of Haitian migrants across the region. Between January and July 2021, Panama registered more than 20,000 Haitians crossing the border, with more each month, up significantly from 2020 when numbers dropped due to the pandemic. Similar crises are taking place with thousands of Haitian migrants stuck in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Gang violence has directly contributed to the numbers of displaced people as well as other criminal economies, including child trafficking from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.
“In Haiti, more than a failing state we have a non-existent state,” economist Joseph Harold Pierre told Bloomberg. But the gangs are all too happy to exist in its place.