More than two weeks after an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed at least 2,200 people, criminal gangs are still shaking down aid convoys and controlling the flow of supplies to those in need.
On August 26, aid agencies reported that the situation had improved slightly and that some help had reached the southern part of the country, particularly Les Cayes and surrounding areas, which bore the brunt of the damage from the quake.
“In Port-au-Prince, there is the capacity to receive materials from any country very fast. Then in Les Cayes, with the gang situation, it’s very difficult for the help to come,” Fonie Pierre, head of Catholic Relief Services in Les Cayes, told the media.
All road traffic heading south from Port-au-Prince must pass through Martissant, a vast district home to warring gangs. According to Reuters, several aid trucks have been looted in and around Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes since the first convoys were sent south on August 16.
The improvement in the movement of aid came after Haiti’s most powerful gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue,” called for a truce on August 22. He said that gang leaders in Martissant had "temporarily made peace to allow the passage of helpers.” The next day, the Haitian National Police deployed extra forces to protect aid shipments, and on August 25, Al Jazeera reported that the aid was flowing more freely.
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Haiti’s gangs are locked in an ever-shifting cycle of alliances and rivalries, meaning that any pact to allow aid agencies to send their supplies may unravel quickly.
According to Eric Calpas, a violence reduction advisor for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), negotiations between community leaders and the gangs to let aid through began immediately after the earthquake.
“The process started with 21 local leaders of Martissant,” including priests, politicians and community leaders who have the ear of the gangs, Calpas told InSight Crime.
Calpas added that these negotiations had taken place with four gangs based in and around Martissant: Village de Dieu, Baz 5 Secondes, Grand Ravine and Ti Bwa. These gangs have been openly at war recently, complicating talks to let aid through.
SEE ALSO : Jimmy Chérizier, alias 'Barbecue'
Grande Ravine and Ti Bwa were locked in a violent struggle in June. Both were founding members of the G9 and Family gang alliance created by Chérizier in June 2020. But Grande Ravine left the alliance late last year, launching a series of attacks in Martissant. Ti Bwa was also fighting with Village de Dieu, another former G9 member.
The gang conflicts have only grown worse since Grand Ravine and Village de Dieu left G9 to join a rival alliance in February of this year.
Gang violence was already creating chaos in Haiti prior to the earthquake. The road south through Martissant had been closed for over two months, leading to shortages of gasoline and basic goods, Marie Frances, a missionary in Haiti, told InSight Crime just weeks before the August 14th earthquake. Some 14,000 people had already fled their homes, and some 60,000 people in Martissant and Bas de Delmas were deemed needing humanitarian aid in June of this year. Doctors Without Borders, the international medical aid organization, closed its hospital in the neighborhood in June after an armed attack.
While Chérizier, Haiti's most outspoken and well-known gan leader, claims his call for peace is what allowed aid trucks to move through Martissant, his G9 alliance currently has little power in the district, which is controlled Village de Dieu and Grande Ravine.
There may be a more pragmatic reason for the gangs to allow aid to pass: Many gang leaders have family members in the southern part of the country, according to Calpas.