Haitian gang leader says he will temporarily lift fuel blockades

Blockades have caused fuel shortages across Haiti, forcing hospitals, businesses and schools to limit operations.

Haitian gang leader Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier
Former police officer Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' coalition of gangs, has demanded the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Notorious Haitian gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier has said he will temporarily lift blockades of fuel terminals that have led to crippling shortages in the Caribbean nation and worsened already deep political and economic crises.

For nearly a month, Cherizier’s G9 alliance of gangs has been preventing trucks from reaching the Varreux fuel terminal outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, leading to shortages that have forced hospitals, businesses and schools to limit operations.

“The doors of the Varreux plant are wide open so that the trucks can get their supplies without fear,” Cherizier said on Friday in comments broadcast online.

“Hospitals, schools, universities, embassies must reopen and be able to supply themselves without any problem,” he said.

Haiti has experienced months of escalating gang violence, beginning before the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the country into a deeper political crisis after years of uncertainty.

Thousands have been displaced, and the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) in May reported that dozens of people had been fatally shot in Bel Air and Cite Soleil, two impoverished neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, since August 2020 amid the uptick in violence.

The Haitian rights group blamed the Haitian authorities for failing to address “the massive and systematic” abuses that residents face in communities “where heinous crimes have been perpetrated”.

The G9 controls entire sections of the capital and its members have been accused of assassination and mass killings, including the murder of infants. Cherizier has roundly denied responsibility for the crimes.

The situation drew renewed international attention last month when a group of 17 Christian missionaries – 16 US citizens and one Canadian – was abducted. Haitian officials have blamed a gang known as 400 Mawozo for the kidnapping. The missionaries remain in captivity.

The United States this week urged its citizens to leave Haiti amid the uncertainty while Canada on Friday announced it was pulling non-essential staff from its embassy as “the security situation in Haiti is rapidly deteriorating and is being exacerbated by ongoing fuel shortages”.

Through the first eight months of the year, 455 mostly Haitians, including 71 women and 30 children, have been kidnapped in the country, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently said. Most of the kidnappings took place in the capital.

“Nowhere is safe for children in Haiti anymore,” UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jean Gough, said in a statement on October 22. “Whether on their way to school, at home or even at church, girls and boys are at risk of being kidnapped anywhere, at any time of the day or night. This is every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said.

This week, top Haitian government officials acknowledged the widespread lack of fuel, saying during a news conference that they were working to resolve the situation, although they provided no details.

On Friday, Cherizier said the G9 wants fuel sales to resume for a week so that Haitians can celebrate a November 18 holiday marking the 1803 defeat of the Napoleonic army that paved the way for the former French colony’s independence.

But he added that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry did not resign in that period, the gangs would take other actions, without elaborating.

Cherizier late last month said he would allow the safe passage of fuel trucks in areas under the gang’s control only if Henry – who took up the post less than two weeks after Moise’s killing on July 7 – were to step down.

“The areas under the control of the G9 are blocked for one reason only: we demand the resignation of Ariel Henry,” Cherizier said on October 26. “If Ariel Henry resigns at 8:00am, at 8:05am, we will unblock the road and all the trucks will be able to go through to get fuel.”

He has since called on the UN and US to break ties with the Haitian government in order to help “liberate Haiti”.

Representatives for Henry’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Reuters news agency on Friday.

Henry condemned the recent increase in gang violence in a televised address in late October.

“If they do not stop their wrongdoing, the law will apply to them,” he said at that time. “The only option for bandits and all their sponsors is imprisonment or death if they do not want to change professions.”

It was not immediately evident how quickly fuel would once again be available after Cherizier’s pledge to lift the blockades.

Many Haitian truck drivers are refusing to transport fuel due to the constant threat of kidnappings by gangs.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies