After the vicious 12-day gang war that rocked the northern communes of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, a new report has emerged that details the full extent of the violence.
From April 24 to May 5, the vast Cul-de-Sac plain became a battleground as Haiti’s single largest gang, 400 Mawozo, swept south and west from their stronghold of Croix-des-Bouquets to brutally invade several neighboring areas controlled by the rival Chen Mechan gang.
Chen Mechan, a member of Haiti’s largest gang federation, the “G9 and Family” (G9 an famni – G9), retaliated by calling in heavily armed G9 reinforcements, as well as conducting a homicidal purge of anyone suspected of aiding the invaders.
At least 148 people were killed and 132 homes torched, with 400 Mawozo’s scorched earth tactics resulting in several gang rapes, nearly a dozen decapitations and the burning alive of many civilians, according to the analysis by Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (Réseau National de Défense des Droits de l'Homme – RNDDH).
Despite making significant territorial gains, 400 Mawozo staged a tactical withdrawal on May 5, and while this has since restored a modicum of calm to Cul-de-Sac plain, RNDDH warns the situation remains fragile. Below, InSight Crime provides three major takeaways from this latest episode in Haiti’s escalating gang war.
400 Mawozo: Ruthless and Unbroken
To many, 400 Mawozo’s continued existence defies belief. In October 2021, the group appeared to overstep when it abducted 16 US missionaries, prompting US authorities to get involved, targeting its US-based arms suppliers and pushing for the extradition of its founder Joly Germine, alias “Yonyon.”
Similarly, this year Haitian police have conducted systematic operations in the group’s home base of Croix-des-Bouquets, weakening the organization to the point that its share of national kidnappings dropped from 80 percent in the first half of 2021 to 20 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
Yet somehow the group retains a high-level of operational capacity. Not only is it believed responsible for the much-publicized kidnappings of both a Dominican diplomat and 17 Turkish aid workers in April and May respectively, but it has spent the last few months taking small bites of territory in Butte-Boyer, Croix-des-Missions and Tabarre, notes the RNDDH report.
That approach changed dramatically on April 24, when a fleet of vehicles transported scores of 400 Mawozo fighters deep into enemy terrain. RNDDH details how they then began a deliberate two-step process: massacring the friends and families of Chen Mechan members and instilling terror in the civilian population by robbery, rape and murder.
“If you look at the tactics, it’s obvious that 400 Mawozo have well-trained people: it might be ex-military, it might be Haitian National Police,” said Eric Calpas, a Haitian gang researcher. “They definitely have advisors who are people with a background in this kind of training.”
In fact, 400 Mawozo’s blitzkrieg would likely have annihilated Chen Mechan had it not been for one external actor: the G9.
The G9: Barbecue Is Back
Though still Haiti’s dominant criminal entity, both the G9 and its infamous leader Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue,” appears to have been laying low in recent months, perhaps becoming more cautious after the excessive noise they generated in late 2021.
If so, that discretion ended dramatically on the afternoon 400 Mawozo pushed across Cul-de-Sac plain. Hours after Chen Mechan’s call to arms, Barbecue, his closest lieutenants and a small army of G9 shooters were rolling into the warring communes inside police armored vehicles, according to the RNDDH report.
Allegations of police support for Barbecue, who is a former police officer, are not new. During his participation in both the 2017 Grande Ravine massacre and 2018 La Saline massacre, he is alleged to have received police weapons, vehicles, uniforms and money to carry out the attacks.
Just as in those cases, his presence in Cul-de-Sac was vigorous, said Eric Calpas. “They were very active in the fight. For instance, some of the G9 leaders, like Ti Junior from La Saline, didn't go to the plain, but sent soldiers, weapons and ammunition, [whereas] Barbecue went there physically.”
“[Barbecue’s G9 ally] Micanor went there with 100 guys, all heavily armed with a backpack full of ammunitions, long rifles, small arms, helmets and bulletproof vests…just imagine, with all G9 soldiers [there might’ve been] close to 200 guys moving through the place,” Calpas told InSight Crime.
This was not all to protect Chen Mechan though. It was also about the broader conflict between G9 and Haiti’s second biggest gang federation: the G-PEP of Cité Soleil.
400 Mawozo Join G-PEP
The criminal federalization of Port-au-Prince’s gangs means that today most gangs in the capital belong to either the G9 or the G-PEP alliances. 400 Mawozo were the largest holdout left, but according to Eric Calpas, that non-alignment ended sometime in the last year.
“So now it's not so much 400 Mawozo against G9: it's really G-PEP against G9,” he claimed. Calpas therefore argues the simultaneous intensification of fighting on May 2 in the communes of Cité Soleil, Martissant and Bas-Delmas was not random.
“This was a very tactical move to have more than one war front…so when [400 Mawozo] attack the allies of G9, like Chen Mechan, G-PEP can also attack G9 in the Boston section of Cité Soleil to weaken the capacity of G9 to be able to respond in [Cul-de-Sac] plain,” he told InSight Crime.
Besides the strategic advantages in uniting against a common enemy, 400 Mawozo’s integration into the G-PEP may represent the former’s attempt at dealing with the loss of its founder, Yonyon, who was indicted by a US federal grand jury on May 10.
“The leader of G-PEP, [alias] Gabriel, is a very clever guy…and I have the feeling [400 Mawozo] are maybe looking for [new] leadership,” explained Calpas.
If this new criminal partnership holds, it may truly challenge the G9’s dominance of the Haitian underworld. “G-PEP has weakened a lot, in Cité Soleil in particular, but now with this alliance with 400 Mawozo…we might be coming to a sort of equilibrium between G9 and G-PEP,” Calpas said.