Gang Violence, Chaos in Haiti – Why?

The Rapid Response Network has been offering solidarity from the US and around the world to support Haitian workers and peasants organized with Batay Ouvriye since 2012. This has often taken the form of pressure campaigns to amplify the voice and demands of workers and peasants against major global brands, factory owners, and big landowners in Haiti.

Now with the ongoing gang violence and total economic destruction by the gangs with the shutting down of key shipping and airports, factories have mostly shut down. Workers are being laid off with zero certainty of when they may work again. It’s incredibly dangerous to move on the street. Peasants trying to work the land in the countryside are also facing attacks from gangs. Food is scarce and the prices are astronomical. Workers, peasants and their families are facing possible starvation.

In all the chaos occurring, it’s overwhelming to figure out how this moment came to be.

Below is a report from a contact who has regular communication with BO. They compiled this summary report to give some contextual information and history to understand this moment.

It’s long, but we hope you’ll give it a read. It’s worth your time.

Last, Please Consider a donation of $25 or more to support Batay Ouvriye members.

They need financial support to make it through this time, because they are determined that their fight is not over.

Batay L’ap Kontinye – The Struggle Continues – Solidarity Forever.


A history of Destabilization

Note:  To gain some understanding of the current situation in Haiti, one must understand some of the historical developments that led to this moment of complete instability. This overview of what’s happening in Haiti begins in 1986. But you could go back further for a deeper understanding of how imperialism has continually dominated and destabilized Haitian economy and politics, particularly the workers and peasant political struggles and movements.

Rampant gang violence is a major feature of the news on Haiti these days, although it is a relatively recent development. The rise of gang rule in Haiti originated in the post-Duvalier years, after 1986, with the disbanding of paramilitary forces and the Haitian army, and persistent political instability. This also coincided with the expansion of narcotrafficking networks using Haiti as a major unregulated transit point with the help of some government cronies. This was compounded by the expulsion and repatriation of Haitian immigrants jailed in the US for various crimes.

Each successive administration built its own network of armed supporters in poor neighborhoods to consolidate their power and influence elections. Contending political parties established their own bases of armed supporters and integrated them into various illicit trades. Major business owners, like Mews, Madsen, Acra, Bigio, and Boulos, also propped up gangs and private security forces to protect their businesses and attack their competitors.

In some poor neighborhoods, self-defense resistance committees (“brigad vijilans”) that were setup during the coup years against Aristide (1991-94) eventually devolved into gangs that took over control of their areas, as the Haitian state was systematically weakened through neoliberal reforms and the police forces rendered more ineffective.

This rising influence of gangs is a complex phenomenon, intimately linked to the failure of neoliberal reforms imposed through imperialist domination, such as free trade policies that devastate the local economy because of cheap imports, austerity policies that impose cutbacks on all social services and incapacitates the state, policies promoting low wages and cheap labor that impoverish working people, privatization of state run enterprises that further reduce state budgets and render them more dependent on foreign funding, deepening odious debts incurred by US supported dictatorships, all of which serves to deepen imperialist domination and the misery of the poor masses.

The rise of gangs is not unique to Haiti and has seen parallel developments in many countries like in Jamaica, Honduras and narco-states like Mexico and Colombia. It is also linked to the expanding illicit international arms trade sponsored by the endless imperialist wars and the arms trafficking linked to these conflicts. The gangs come to rule through the absence of the weakened state.

2010:  Earthquake & US “Aid.” UN “Peacekeepers” bring Cholera. Plus, a Hurricane.

On January 12, 2010, during the last year of René Préval’s lame duck presidency, a massive 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and killed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 persons, (over 2% of Haiti’s population), mostly in the capital’s metropolitan area, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The earthquake that was popularized as “goudou-goudou” also laid waste to most of the capital’s infrastructure, including most government offices.

The US spearheaded the international response by taking over the main airport, prioritizing the deployment of about 20,000 troops to maintain control, and organizing the distribution of aid at gun point. This militarization of the aid meant that most of the effective rescue efforts were led by the local population mobilizing the meager resources that were still available, mainly with bare hands and shovels.

The Obama-Biden-Clinton administration appointed Bill Clinton as an overseer of aid distribution and over $5 billion in international aid were funneled through a vast network of hundreds of mostly US based NGOs to bypass the Haitian government and “prevent misappropriation”. This resulted in massive fraud, corruption and inefficiency profiting mostly the NGOs, with an estimated 5¢ on the dollar reaching aid recipients.

The US troop deployment was phased out and replaced by beefing up the existing UN MINUSTAH mission to keep the lid on a potential exodus of immigrants seeking refuge in the US. A newly deployed Nepalese contingent of UN “peacekeepers” introduced cholera to Haiti, resulting in an epidemic that led to the death of about 10,000 and the infection of about 800,000 persons.

On November 9th of that same year, in 2010, Hurricane Thomas struck Haiti, displacing hundreds of thousands and worsening the already bleak situation.

Those are the circumstances in which the US pushed through the holding of elections on November 28, 2010, in order to replace the Préval administration that had been meekly stalling and pushing back on neoliberal reforms: the earthquake aftermath with hundreds of thousands still living in makeshift tents, a huge cholera outbreak, and a devastating hurricane.

The US then coerced the crippled Haitian government into changing the election results to promote its favorite candidate, Michel Martelly, to the second round of elections, which he eventually won with a turnout of 20% of voters. Michel Martelly, a popular musician, a depraved, confessed drug dealer and FBI informant, was the US choice to implement its “Haiti is open for business” policy, a featured example of “disaster capitalism”, with much more disaster than capitalism.

The US-backed Martelly administration fully opened the gates to neoliberal reforms while greatly expanding the institutionalized corruption of the Haitian state, narco-trafficking, contraband trade and the promotion and expansion of government affiliated gangs. It also postponed elections at all levels and resorted to political appointments and vacancies to establish control of all 3 branches of government, ultimately ruling by executive order.

The accelerated ongoing degradation of the Haitian state, economy and social structures can be traced back to these policies.

Jovenel Moise: Accelerated erosion of Economy, State. Growth of Armed Gangs. Assassination.

Although elections were held in November 2016, the newly elected president, Jovenel Moise, was hand-picked to serve as a puppet to Martelly’s governing PHTK (bald head) party and its affiliated bureaucratic and comprador bourgeois fractions (those who wield state power as a source of enrichment and those who profit from import-export trade and the assembly manufacturing sector).

The Moise administration continued with the same policies that fostered the accelerated degradation of conditions overall and the spread of armed gang violence, resulting in large widespread demonstrations, particularly in 2019, demanding that he step down. Despite massive protests, Jovenel held on to power 5 months beyond his constitutional mandate, because he had the support of the “international community”, mainly the “Core Group” (US, France, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Germany, the OAS, the UN, and the EU).

Internal strife within the ruling PHTK party led to Jovenel’s assassination on July 7, 2021, by a squad of mostly Colombian mercenaries. Claude Joseph, the acting prime at the time, was soon replaced by Ariel Henry who had just been nominated by Jovenel to replace him. Claude was replaced by Ariel through a Tweet from the US Embassy, officializing “Core Group” support for Ariel. Ariel Henry was the leader of the opposition that deposed then president Aristide in 2004 and forced him into exile.

Ariel’s appointment as prime minister was entirely outside of Haitian constitutional order since there did not exist a parliamentary quorum to ratify his appointment nor a head of state to officialize it. That is why he was often referred to as a “de-facto prime minister”. Ariel’s supposed mandate was to organize new general elections that would replenish the vacated office holders whose terms had expired. However, by refusing to compromise the domination of the ruling PHTK party, all the political negotiations to hold new elections failed in stalemates.

Ariel’s main achievement was staying in power for 21/2 years while riding out ever growing waves of protests demanding he step down. He ruled by decree during these 21/2 years, overseeing an increasingly chaotic and anarchic situation that saw the proliferation of gangs and extreme depraved violence against the population, such as gang rapes of girls and women, rampant kidnappings and extortion, public burning and dismembering of bodies, instances of cannibalism, massive dislocations of hundreds of thousands in poor neighborhoods fleeing this persecution, the division of the capital’s metropolitan area into subdivisions of gang-controlled areas cutting off and restricting traffic on the main highways and roads, imposing check points and tolls on public roads.

The reigns of terror established by these local gangs were propped up by this wanton depraved violence, as the gangs continued to be financed by various factions in the government, the bureaucratic and the comprador fractions of the bourgeoisie and their networks of contraband and drug trade. Although the extreme violence perpetrated by these gangs also reached some members of the ruling classes, their most important strategic effect was to quell public and mass demonstrations, filling in for the weakened police forces.

Viv Ansanm:  Gangs Take Full Control

Notwithstanding this rule of terror, the popular masses of Haiti sustained several month-long and week-long mobilizations, “peyi lòk” (locked down country), similar in effect to general strikes. There were also several worker-led mobilizations organized by Batay Ouvriye of several thousand assembly sector workers and some students to demand an end to the insecurity and an adjustment to the minimum wage while facing tear gas and live bullets from the police. These remarkable achievements in such dire circumstances failed to account for the fact that the ruling classes have far more reserves than the masses and control the repressive forces, highlighting the limits of peaceful resistance.

The autonomy of most of these gangs expanded as they grew less dependent on their sponsors and relied more and more on ransoms, kidnappings, extortions, contraband, arms, and drug trade.

In November of 2022, Ariel appealed to the UN Security Council to intervene in Haiti, ostensibly to restore the rule of law and to put down the gangs, but mostly to shore up his flailing authority.

It took about a year for the UN Security Council to reach a compromise Title 7 agreement to sanction a non-UN police assistance force (MMAS – Multinational Security Assistance Mission) led by about a thousand police from Kenya, mostly funded by a $200 million yearly grant by the US.

As this agreement was stalled in Kenya due to constitutional technicalities, Ariel Henry traveled to Kenya, prompted by US diplomatic efforts, and signed an agreement on March 1, 2024, to resolve these. However, Ariel’s attempt to return to Haiti on March 3 was foiled by the uprising of the gangs that blocked the airport and the Dominican Republic’s sudden refusal that Ariel’s plane land in the DR, forcing Ariel to land in Puerto-Rico.

During Ariel’s trip abroad, there was a loose coalition-alliance, calling itself “Viv Ansanm” (Living Together), formed by most of the gangs in the capital’s metropolitan area, prompted by the government’s attempt to mobilize foreign forces against them. They coalesced to demand Ariel’s resignation, and to attack and take over police stations, strategic infrastructures, and government offices. They have succeeded in these objectives for the most part, although the main airport and the police training facility are still under siege and not yet in their control.

This upheaval prompted the “international community” to dump their support for Ariel Henry and call for his resignation. Ariel put out a resignation video on March 11, in concurrence with US demands to set up a provisional ruling council of 7 qualified representatives from several political parties and the business sector. These qualifications include that they must support the deployment of foreign troops to Haiti and that they must not have been previously convicted of felonies.

This coalition-alliance and stunning sudden apparent shift in gang activity, from depraved massacres and infighting warring for territorial control by gangs flaunting their viciousness to a “Living Together” rebranding of these same gangs to “’armed groups” suddenly wearing military uniforms cannot be easily explained. What could make these warring sworn enemies suddenly coalesce to join forces and collaborate in a political struggle?

One possibility is that there is a controlling force supplying these gangs with guns and munitions that has brought this about. A plausible but unconfirmed possibility is that international drug cartels are trying to maintain an anarchic situation in Haiti that facilitates their operations. “Viv Ansanm” has stated that whoever comes to power in Haiti would still be beholden to them. This would be consistent with recent political events, including the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021. It is also plausible that the gangs are negotiating for amnesty and integration into the newly reinstated Haitian armed forces, while facing the impending threat of foreign forces.

BBQ & Gangs Do Not Represent the People’s Interests

Much has been made of the apparent self-declared leader of the “Viv Ansanm” coalition, Jimmy Cherisier, aka “Barbecue”, a former police officer implicated in various massacres in popular neighborhoods. Cherisier, a leader of the former “G-9” UN sponsored gang coalition, has consistently denounced the inequalities of Haitian society, blaming a few in the Haitian oligarchy for the misery of the masses. He also has consistently claimed the legitimacy of armed resistance to injustice while, unlike other gangs, renouncing acts of persecution of people, such as kidnappings and rapes, in the areas controlled by gangs in the G-9 coalition.

He has repeatedly claimed that he is leading a revolutionary movement to right these injustices, while also publicly mourning the assassination of president Jovenel Moise, clearly implicated in them.

However, these claims belie the fact that the G-9 control strategic infrastructures like the main petroleum receiving port and the use of this control to leverage numerous exactions to fund their operations. He has also publicly acknowledged responsibility for several massacres involving rival gangs while calling for reconciliation with them. He has also publicly acknowledged his previous affiliation with part of the same oligarchy (Boulos) that he currently denounces. Where did the guns and the money come from?

The claims of popular revolutionary aspirations conflict with reality. Barbecue has successfully positioned himself into a populist negotiating position in the current unfolding of events as a spokesperson for the sponsors and behind-the-scenes controllers of the gangs.

Proposed Political “Alternatives”

This political positioning is in alignment with an attempt to establish a 3-person provisional governing council, headed by Guy Philippe, a released convicted drug dealer, former officer of the Haitian army, who led the 2004-armed putsch that deposed Aristide, and a former Haitian senator. This is part of a coalition with the “Pitit Desalin” (Sons of Dessalines) political party headed by Moise Jean Charles, a populist political figure in the opposition camp to Ariel Henry. This Guy Philippe option has garnered significant popular support in street demonstrations and is to date leading in-country mobilizations.

On the other hand, it seems that US-led diplomatic efforts, through CARICOM, to impose a 7-person ruling council that would select a new prime minister, are facing increasing opposition in Haiti.  Haitian political parties have yet to agree on the composition of this 7-persosn ruling council and are seeking to delay their nomination.

The gangs in the “Viv Ansanm” coalition, acting like a paramilitary force, have effectively taken control of most strategic positions and sacked most police stations, many banks, major car dealerships and government offices, as well as public institutions, universities, hospitals, and private residences, reinforcing a state of anarchy. Various rumors spreading like wildfire are provoking panic in the streets. The Kenyan deployment of a thousand police has been put on hold until the political situation has been stabilized.

The Biden administration has publicly renounced deploying US troops to intervene in Haiti, as that would be a major tactical vulnerability in an election year. Special forces have been deployed to secure the US embassy, the fourth largest US embassy in the world, while US citizens have been urged to evacuate.

The US administration is also considering using Guantanamo to once again jail Haitian refugees apprehended trying to seek asylum before reaching US shores. The specter of a flood of poor black refugees reaching Florida in an election year seems to be a key factor determining US policies toward Haiti. As such there seems to be little differentiating Trump’s position on Haiti as being a “shithole country” and Biden’s statement that if Haiti were to disappear and sink into the sea it would be of little consequence to the US.

The situation in Haiti is extremely chaotic and the unfolding of events is very unpredictable. It seems like the US has lost some of its leverage while the state of anarchy is becoming more entrenched, giving the gangs and their sponsors more power, while the overall situation becomes more and more unlivable for the masses.

Although the imperialists are attempting to use the UN, CARICOM, the OAS, and foreign troops to reinforce their domination, they are struggling to come up with a viable alternative. Something will have to give at some point, probably in an explosive manner, to resolve these contradictions, even if in an unconclusive temporary manner.

Impacts on the People

About two thirds of the assembly sector workforce has been laid off due to the sanctions imposed by the “international community” and the prevailing security crisis. Several factories have closed down, and most of the remaining factories are operating with reduced hours and cutbacks in production. Workers are facing increasing difficulties just surviving day to day, navigating the exorbitant cost of living, dodging bullets and the insecurity.

Gang violence has also severely affected most people living in poor neighborhoods and rural areas. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their neighborhoods because of massacres and indiscriminate shootings, rapes, and the burning down of their homes as various gangs competed to take over each other’s territories or to expand into new territories. Schools have been shut down for extended periods, people dealing in small trade (“ti machann”) have been forced out because the roads they use for purchasing and transporting their goods are blocked by the gangs or their goods have been stolen. The prices of most common goods have skyrocketed due to their scarcity. Corrupt officials in rural areas have used gangs to expropriate small farmers and to repress their calls for justice. Organizing efforts of poor peasants and rural day laborers have come under increasing repression and also face perilous, sometimes prohibitive conditions.

Call for Support

These dangerous and difficult conditions call for greater resolve and combativity, even while the prospects of immediate relief remain distant.

BO is not in a position to lead mass mobilizations and resistance because it faces brutal armed violence of the gangs and the police. This is a defensive moment to preserve our organizations and movement, to consolidate our efforts while trying to grow them in these perilous conditions.

Even if it is subdued for the moment, there will always be uprisings and mass protests by the people against their domination and repression.

We call for the solidarity of those who believe in the struggles of workers, exploited laborers, and the oppressed masses to organize to build a better world. We ask you to spread our message as we send you our solidarity to you in your own struggles.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Please Consider a donation of $25 or more to support Batay Ouvriye members.

They need financial support to make it through this time, because they are determined that their fight is not over. Batay L’ap Kontinye – The Struggle Continues.



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