Face to face with Haiti’s most notorious gang leader

(CNN) — While waiting for the opportunity to interview the most notorious gang leader, Jimmy “Barbeque” Charizier, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Giles Clark heard semi-automatic gunfire just two or three blocks away.

The photojournalist recalled, “I looked at the group of locals, wondering if they might react, but they barely moved a muscle.” “It was just another day in Delmas 6 (neighborhood), and the constant volley of bullets flying over a nearby building didn’t seem unusual at all.”

Every few minutes there would be another explosion, followed by retaliatory firing.

The United Nations estimates that this is life now in Port-au-Prince, where gangs control 80% of the city and continue to fight for the rest.

Hundreds of Haitians fleeing gang violence live in tents outside a displacement center in Port-au-Prince. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

A member of a gang affiliated with Jimmy “Barbeque” Charizier’s G9 alliance holds a rifle in Port-au-Prince. The United Nations estimates that gangs control 80% of the capital. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Haitian police inspect documents at a checkpoint on the road leading from the city center to the port. Photojournalist Giles Clarke said it was one of the few places controlled by the police. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Haiti has been in a state of turmoil for years, but multiple security sources in the capital told CNN that the recent surge in gang violence, which has targeted police stations, the international airport and the national prison, is unprecedented.

Haiti’s government declared a state of emergency on Sunday, citing “deteriorating security” and “increasing violent criminal acts by armed gangs”, including kidnappings and killings of civilians, violence against women and children and looting. Is.

Armed groups attacked the country’s two largest prisons on Saturday, and a UN source said about 3,500 prisoners were believed to have escaped from the national prison in Port-au-Prince over the weekend.

Feguens, a 29-year-old school bus driver, was shot in the back last month. While in Haiti, Clark saw many injured civilians. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Shattered glass inside one of the police department’s armored anti-gang vehicles. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Meanwhile, more than 300,000 Haitian citizens have been forced to flee their homes due to gang violence, according to the United Nations.

“All the travel destinations I went to in September are probably at double the capacity now,” said Clark, a New York-based photojournalist who has visited the Caribbean country periodically since 2011.

Clark returned last month to document the unrest in Port-au-Prince. He witnessed even more horrific scenes, including one at a hospital where he saw countless people suffering from gunshot wounds.

“Many of them were civilians affected by gang shootings and most were near markets. “These are people going about their daily lives,” Clark said. “The doctors were overwhelmed. “There was a shortage of supplies.”

A funeral procession in the Grand Cemetery of the city of Port-au-Prince. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

The mortuaries in the city were also overcrowded.

“You can smell it on the street,” Clark said. “I remember asking (my guide) Joe, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Dead people.’

Clark said many of them were victims of mass violence whose bodies had not been claimed by their families.

“If you don’t claim them or if no one pays, these bodies will rot,” he said. “It’s very cold.”

A coffin lies in the city morgue. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Charizard, in the centre, runs through the streets of the capital. Lead an alliance of gangs in the city. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

While in Haiti, Clark also managed to come face to face with Jimmy “Barbeque” Charizier, a former police officer who leads a gang coalition in Port-au-Prince.

Charizard has made clear that his goal is to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

He told Clark that the gangs wanted to change the existing system and create a new Haiti. While the people of Charizard wore balaclavas to protect their identity, they did not have one.

“He is often the only one not wearing a mask – a defiant face of the Haitian resistance,” Clark said.

Member of an armed gang in the Delmas 3 neighborhood. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Gerise, 42, is recovering in General Hospital two days after being caught in gang crossfire and shot in the neck. She worked as a food vendor in the city. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Violet, 63, lies on the floor of General Hospital after being shot twice in the arm. She says her 34-year-old daughter was murdered when two warring gangs ransacked their neighborhood just an hour earlier. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Henry, who took over leadership of the country after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021, was expected to hold elections and transfer power by February 7. But last month he had said that he cannot resign as the conditions are not safe to hold elections in the country.

In an address to the nation, he said, “My interim government is working closely with the police to restore normal life in the country.” “We know many things have to change, but we have to make these changes together and peacefully.”

This is not acceptable to Charizier, who on Friday reiterated his demand for Henry to be arrested.

“We call on the Haitian National Police and the Army to assume their responsibility and arrest Ariel Henry,” he said. “Once again, population is not our enemy; Armed groups are not the enemy. Arrest Ariel Henry for the freedom of the country. …With these weapons we will liberate the country and these weapons will change the country.”

Charizier and her dog Barbie. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

A girl stands in the stands of a former school sports stadium that is now a center for displaced people. He is one of more than 600 children now living in the overcrowded shelter, Clark said. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Cherizier has faced sanctions from both the United Nations and the US Treasury Department. The United Nations has accused Charizard of human rights abuses, including carrying out deadly attacks against civilians over the years, and said his actions “have directly contributed to the economic paralysis and humanitarian crisis in Haiti.”

Clark visited him at his modest hilltop home at 6 Delmas in late February.

“We actually did the interview in the abandoned building across the street from them,” Clark said. “It is said that he did not want many people living so close to him.”

After a brief interview in which Charizier presented his vision for Haiti, Clark walked with him through the streets. Clarke remembers how calm he was when he was with Charizard. “No shots were fired because (people) were all with Jimmy,” he said.

View inside a Haitian police armored vehicle. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

As a truck enters the Delmas 6 neighborhood, a man stands behind it. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

To try to restore order in his country, Henry asked for military help. The deployment of a Kenyan-led multinational security force was greenlit by the UN Security Council last year and Henry recently visited Kenya to finalize details, but it is not clear when those troops will arrive. Can.

The United States agreed to provide $200 million for the mission, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the situation in Haiti “one of the most urgent challenges we face as an international community.”

Jean Junior Joseph, senior advisor to Prime Minister Henry, told CNN that the government has limited options at this time.

“The gangs have more ammunition than us,” he said.

A man and woman, displaced by gang violence, now live in a former school building in the Delmas 4 neighborhood. (Credit: Giles Clarke)

Photographer: Giles Clark
Author: Kyle Almond
Photo Editors: Bernadette Tuzon, Brett Rosiers and Will Lanzoni
Contributing reporters: David Culver, Jeremy Dupin, Caitlin Stephen Hu, Stefano Pozzibon, Manveena Suri and Michelle Velez

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