Two gangs have coordinated an amphibious attack on a key industrial area north of Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, igniting a battle with security forces to stop another suburb from falling under criminal governance.
Police killed five members of the Canaan gang on October 10 and 11 as the group and its ally, the 5 Seconds (5 Seconds) gang, fought to control the area surrounding the country's largest flour mill, Moulins d'Haiti. The mill is strategically located in the Canaan neighborhood, a chokepoint along National Road 1, the northern entrance to Port-au-Prince.
Around fifty armed combatants from the 5 Seconds gang assaulted the facilities on October 8, having swept across the bay of Port-au-Prince by speedboat, reported Haiti Libre. Members of the Canaan gang encouraged the 5 Seconds gang to invade the area, according to a Facebook post by Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d'Haïti - PNH).
Gang members initially repelled the facility's security guards and prevented police reinforcements by dropping a cargo container on the access road.
The Canaan area has witnessed increasing gang encroachment recently, including armed robberies, kidnappings, and the hijacking of transiting vehicles. In May, the press speculated that the area would soon fall under criminal control, just like Martissant, the southern entrance to Port-au-Prince.
The 5 Seconds gang and its allies have blockaded National Road No. 2 in Martissant since June 2021. The latest attack comes just as the United Nations consider a Haitian request for international military intervention to break organized crime's grip on the city.
InSight Crime Analysis
The attack on Moulins d'Haiti fits a pattern of behavior by gangs to shut down infrastructure, either to establish control or secure a hefty payday.
In some cases, gangs seek temporary control of specific facilities or buildings to use as leverage in negotiations with the government. Moulins d'Haiti's coastal location and proximity to an essential highway make it a perfect bargaining chip.
Terminal Varreux, the country's largest oil terminal and essential refueling point for the capital, is a similar case. Since mid-September, gang fighters under G9 and Family (G9 an fanmi - G9) leader Jimmy Chérizier, alias "Barbecue," have set up trenches and barricades to besiege the terminal for the second time in less than a year.
Barbeque’s first blockade of Terminal Varreux in 2021 was part of an organized effort by criminal groups to limit access to fuel across Haiti to destabilize the government, InSight Crime previously reported. The easing of the blockade eventually followed a truce between the gangs and the local government, in which Haitian security forces withdrew from the area. There were also reports Barbecue was paid $100,000 to lift the siege.
Additionally, the 5 Seconds gang successfully assaulted and occupied Haiti's Supreme Court building last June. To date, police have still not retaken it. The courthouse is in Port-au-Prince's Champ de Mars neighborhood, located near 5 Seconds' base of Village-de-Dieu. While it contains little strategic or commercial value, it is the country's most important courthouse and an asset in potential negotiations with the government.
Gangs also seek permanent control of public infrastructure like highways and roads in addition to temporary charge of strategic assets. On highways, gangs continuously shake down drivers and sell black market gasoline as they please while setting up blockades and suffocating the local economy.
5 Seconds’ attack on Moulins d'Haiti and the surrounding Canaan area is partially motivated by the hopes to gain permanent control of National Road 1. Canaan is key to entering Port-au-Prince from the north, granting massive extortion and kidnapping revenues to any armed group that can keep it.
Haitian street gang, the 400 Mawozo, has proven how successful control of highways around Port-au-Prince can be. The group controls the suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets, which lies on the highway connecting Haiti’s capital with the Dominican Republic and is vital for Port-au-Prince’s economy.
The gang has successfully set up roadblocks along the highway, intimidated locals, extorted commerce, and stolen merchandise in transit, generating huge profits.