The Haitian prime minister had to flee an event commemorating revolutionary founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Sunday, when armed gang members arrived and fired several shots.
The incident came just a day after a bus full of missionaries and their families were kidnapped by gang members in Port-au-Prince. The 17 members of a US-based missionary group were reportedly on their way to the airport when they were abducted. US officials and Haitian authorities are trying to secure their release.
The annual ceremony commemorating Dessalines, the first emperor of Haiti, was scheduled at the Pont Rouge area of Port-au-Prince where the leader was assassinated in 1806. Under Dessalines, Haiti became the first country to abolish slavery.
Prime minister Henry Ariel and his security could not even reach the spot as Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier and his gang members reportedly drove them away and instead officiated the commemoration ceremony. Cherizier is the head of the G9 gang, a collective of nine Haitian gangs based in Port-au-Prince.
A video of the incident shared on social media on Sunday showed several SUVs, believed to belong to Mr Ariel and his security detail, leaving Pont Rouge as gunshots were heard in the background.
Cherizier was later seen laying the floral wreath and paying his respects to Dessalines. He was seen wearing a white suit and shirt, which is Haiti’s dress code for officials on national holidays.
On Sunday, several members of Cherizier’s gang were seen wearing T-shirts with the picture of former Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated in July, with the words “Justice for Jovenel” emblazoned on them.
Recently, Cherizier has tried to fill in the power vacuum left by the assassination and had even called for a revolution in June. The gang leader has also reportedly collaborated with Moïse’s Tèt Kale Party in the past.
Cherizier has been under US Treasury sanctions since 2018 after his role in the La Saline massacre, which is considered the worst massacre to rock Haiti in the past decade. Over 70 people were killed over a four-day period by local gangs or Haitian officials trying to quell anti-corruption protests.
Cherizier was reportedly serving as a police officer back then. He was soon fired from his job and an arrest warrant was issued in his name.
He also participated in 2017 in a supposed anti-gang operation that led to the extrajudicial killing of at least nine civilians in the Grand Ravine neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, according to investigative journalism organisation Insight Crime.
In November 2019, Cherizier and members of four other gangs — Delmas 6, Base Nan Chabon, Krache Dife and the St Martin Street Gang — set fire to several houses and killed at least 24 people.
According to the US Treasury website, throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier “led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods”. Most recently, in May 2020, he led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.
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