Heavily armed men stormed Monday evening into the poor district of Bel Air, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and fired on residents and set fire to houses.
Witnesses to the event reported that several hundred residents of the area, as well as the neighborhoods of Sans Fil and Ruelle Maya, were forced to flee and take refuge in the Champ de Mars, a public square located near the Presidential Palace, where gunshots were still heard. The former police officer Jimmy Chérizier, better known by the alias “Barbecue”, was identified as responsible for this act of violence.
According to the testimonies of residents, between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning there have been strong clashes, supposedly between armed groups, on the one hand the alliance of gangs known as G9, led by Chérizier, and members of a rival gang who is based in this neighborhood.
It is estimated that these confrontations have already left around twenty dead, as the inhabitants report the murder of young people and children.
The causes of these clashes are unknown. Some residents report that Bel Air, with a strong working-class base, has traditionally supported the Lavalas movement, led by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, and is a bastion of resistance against the current power. In addition, several major demonstrations have started against President Jovenel Moïse in the neighborhood or nearby areas of Sans Fil, St. Martin, Delmas 18 and Delmas 24.
The residents also report that these gangs are at the service of Moïse, who has not taken visible steps to disarm them and work for the safety of their neighborhoods.
Although the Ministry of Justice issued an arrest warrant for Chérizier for his role in the La Saline massacre, he remains at large. Last June he announced that he would unite the G9 and other gangs, and a month later he blocked various routes and roads in various neighborhoods of the capital so that the government would grant them legal recognition.
According to Fondasyon Je Klere (FJKL), the G9 and Chérizier are backed by the Haitian government. A report by this organization maintains that the La Saline massacre was perpetrated by a struggle of armed gangs allied with politicians for control of the profits of a notorious market in Port-au-Prince, a conflict that involved, on the one hand, a group that considers itself close to the ruling party, Tèt Kale (PHTK), and on the other to a rival gang that is close to the opposition.
Human rights organizations fear that a new massacre such as that of La Saline, which occurred between November 13 and 17, 2018, will take place in that neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. According to information released by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in that episode at least 71 people lost their lives and an unknown number were victims of robberies and looting of their homes. This fact was never investigated, maintains the IACHR.
According to the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (Rnddh), other massacres similar to that of La Saline were perpetrated by these armed gangs in the neighborhoods of Bel-Air, Cite-Soleil, Chancerelles, “Tokio”, Fort Dimanche and Pont- Rouge. These are popular neighborhoods in the metropolitan area of the capital, where there is insecurity and there is little control by the police authorities.