EXPLAINER: Who’s behind Haiti’s most powerful gang alliance?

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution that imposes sanctions on Jimmy Chérizier, leader of a powerful gang federation in Haiti, who is accused of threatening the country’s peace, security or stability. It also places a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo on Chérizier and would establish a committee to designate others to be put on a sanctions list.

The resolution comes nearly two weeks after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his Cabinet requested deployment of foreign troops to help end Haiti’s deepening crisis, a request that the U.N. is still mulling.

Chérizier and the federation he leads, known as “G9 Family and Allies,” have blocked the entrance of a main fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince for more than a month as fuel, water and other basic supplies grow scarce amid a cholera outbreak. The gang has said it would not budge until Henry resigns, but in a video recently posted on social media, Chérizier, who is nicknamed “Barbecue,” called on the government to grant him and G9 members amnesty and to void all arrest warrants against them. The government has not responded as police struggle to contain gangs that have grown more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Here’s a look at Chérizier’s life and rise to power:

WHO IS JIMMY CHÉRIZIER, AND WHY IS HE NICKNAMED “BARBECUE”?

Chérizier is a former officer with Haiti’s National Police who worked with the Departmental Crowd Control Unit, which is deployed when there are riots or protests and has been accused of excessive force. He has since become what many consider Haiti’s most powerful gang leader.

Chérizier told The Associated Press in a 2019 interview that he was born in the Port-au-Prince community of Delmas, next to La Saline slum, one of eight children whose father died when he was 5. He said his mother was a street vendor who sold fried chicken, and that’s how he was nicknamed “Barbecue,” denying he earned the moniker due to accusations that he set people on fire.

Chérizier told the AP that he is inspired by the late dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti with a bloody brutality from 1957 to 1971 and had himself declared “president for life.”

HOW DID CHÉRIZIER BECOME SO POWERFUL?

Haiti’s National Police fired Chérizier in December 2018 and he still faces an outstanding arrest warrant for his alleged role in a 2017 massacre.

Authorities accuse Chérizier of becoming a gang leader of Base Delmas 6, an impoverished Lower Delmas neighborhood, and of organizing large-scale massacres that occurred in the nearby slums of Grand Ravine in 2017, in La Saline in 2018 and in Bel-Air in 2019, accusations Chérizier denies.

At least nine civilians were killed in Grand Ravine, another 71 people were killed, 11 women raped and 150 homes destroyed in La Saline and at least 24 people killed in Bel-Air, according to a report published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

In June 2020, Chérizier established a new alliance known as “G9 Family and Allies.” It originally was composed of nine gangs from Cite Soleil, La Saline and lower Delmas but has since grown to include more than a dozen gangs, according to a U.N. Security Council report.

“The G9 … is notorious because of the diversity of its membership,” the report stated.

In mid-2020, the gang alliance was accused of killing at least 145 people in Cite Soleil and raping multiple women “in efforts to claim areas held by rivals with ties to Moïse’s political opponents,” according to the Harvard report.

“Residents believe they were targeted for their political affiliations, in an effort to secure electoral support for (Moïse) and his party,” the report stated, adding that “G9 reportedly enjoys ties to both the Moïse administration and (Haiti’s National Police).”

Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network has echoed those allegations, stating that local police have helped protect Chérizier even while he supposedly committed crimes.

In December 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department issued civil sanctions against Chérizier and others believed to be involved in the massacres, accusing gangs of removing “victims, including children, from their homes to be executed and then dragged them into the streets where their bodies were burned, dismembered and fed to animals.”

Chérizier has repeatedly denied any involvement in the massacres, saying he is a community leader who helps residents and is leading an “armed revolution,” adding that he would “put guns in the hands of every child if we have to.”

“I would never massacre people in the same social class as me,” he told the AP. “I live in the ghetto. I know what ghetto life is.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR CHÉRIZIER?

Since mid-September, Chérizier and his allies have surrounded a key fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince, refusing to move until the prime minister steps down. But after Haiti’s government requested the immediate deployment of foreign troops, Chérizier announced that he was seeking amnesty and the removal of all arrest warrants against him and his allies.

The gang also is demanding Cabinet positions, the director of Haiti’s National Disarmament, Dismantling and Reintegration Commission told radio station Magik 9.

The government has not responded publicly to those requests.

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