Gédeon Jean is a peculiar guy. From his small office in Bourdon in Port-au-Prince, a few years ago he decided to start counting the violence in Haiti and record the kidnappings, murders, rapes or releases that took place on a day-to-day basis. Little by little it was building its database in a country without official figures that does not meet any of these requirements: There are no figures and there is no official authority to process them. Today he directs the Center for analysis and research in human rights (CARDH), the reference organization to explain the phenomenon of violent gangs that control 60% of the country. According to his experience, in the last year we have been witnessing the creation of a “monster” that has weapons, money and while it shakes the neighborhoods with a political discourse that attributes the poverty in which they live to the State.
According to Gédeon, the gangs have become independent and have ceased to be the transmission belt of the political parties to become a phenomenon halfway between the Mexican narco, the Central American gangs and the Colombian guerrilla. Bands like him G9 family (G9 and family), 400 Mawoso (the vulgar 400) O Izo 5 Seconds (Izo five seconds) they are the new state that controls commerce, transportation, loans between individuals or the justice system.
As he explains during an interview with MRT in his office, Haiti, with some eleven million inhabitants, has become the world capital of kidnapping where the almost 200 existing gangs carry out an average of two daily captures in the last year, triple that of last year, including 54 foreigners of four different nationalities. A figure that in the last 15 days has shot up to eight people a day.
Question. How are the new gangs that control the country?
Answer. The kidnapping has changed. When the first cases began, in 1996, they were settling accounts between individuals and the issue was not even important. At that time, if you asked someone on the street about kidnapping, they didn’t even know what you were talking about.
The abductions began to dissipate in 2003 and 2004 and had to do with the political situation and the fall of Jean Bertrand Aristide. After his departure from power in February 2004 kidnappings soared, but they had to do with later revenge. They were revenges of militants of his cause who demanded his return to power and focused on selective kidnappings between businessmen and the elites of Petion Ville. But it was not massive nor did it include rape, it was just about getting money to continue their fight and also sending a message to the upper classes and the private sector. Nothing to do with the current era.
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P. And how is it now?
R. Very different, because it is not limited to a particular area and includes the middle and lower classes. Before it was revenge, but now it is a major source of funding and they also want more power. We are witnessing the creation of a monster that surpasses the institutions and the police.
P. What is the current profile of the kidnapped?
R. All kind of people. Most are middle class: teachers, engineers, doctors … and rarely is someone the upper class. When Dr. Jerry Bitar (director of one of the most important private hospitals in the country) was kidnapped in March, they released him the next day and not even a ransom was paid. So we are still understanding things. Why are there kidnappings that are released very quickly and others that are not. What is clear is that the gangs now have much more money and more weapons and this gives them much more power in the areas where they control. Generally the families mobilize to obtain the money and sell all the properties. Even neighbors or co-workers contribute money to pay the ransom. They know that the majority of those kidnapped have a relative in the United States.
P. The leader of the G9, Barbecue, it demands the resignation of the prime minister so that the gasoline returns to the country. Do you want political power?
R. The violent gangs before were not bandits but fanatical militants of political groups. Each president who came to power relies on a specific group of criminals to defend him in the neighborhoods. For example, Jean Claude Duvalier came to power in 1971 relying on the Tonton Macoutes his father’s. It was an official and violent force that defended power and killed opponents, but not the general population. When Aristide arrived, first in 1993 and then in 2001, he leaned on the Chimera that originally they were not criminals either but fanatics who defended their maximum boss with weapons against any attack. Then the situation began to change with the arrival of Michel Martelly (2011-2016) due to the massive entry of weapons in the country. Full containers arrived at private ports and all of that deteriorated further with Jövenel Moise, where his related gangs were strengthened.
P. Faced with the power vacuum, have they become independent?
R. It is a mixture of many interests. On the one hand, there are parliamentarians who arm groups to protect their interests in the field and those groups armed others to channel their frustrations, but now it can be said that they have become independent from the party and the political movement that created them, however they have not yet been They can live alone, they need complicity to kidnap someone in one part of the city and take them to the other end of Port-au-Prince.
P. How big are the bands?
R. There are about 200 nationwide and employ thousands of people, albeit at different levels. There is the one who sends data, the one who watches the streets, the one who executes, the one who charges, the trainers… there are many levels. One band can be associated with five other bands. 400 Mawoso it can control the Croix de Buquet area and have branches in Village de Dye.
P. The G9, the band of Barbacue, is the biggest one?
R. Not necessarily. This is called G9 and family because they are an alliance of nine armed groups that in turn have alliances with other smaller groups throughout the city.
P. What is the relationship between G9 and 400 Mawoso?
R. I do not know what relationship they have exactly, but you must understand is that they are not assholes. They are not morons and share alliances and strategies. I mean, gangs don’t fight with other gangs.
P. Are you incorporating ideology?
R. Clearly they are in the construction of a story I give you two examples. In the last video broadcast of Barbacue he insists on showing the misery and using the poor to say it is the State that has you like this and, in reality, he is not lying, but he uses poverty to win sympathy. In his last demonstration he was accompanying hundreds of followers. And another more recent example, this week Izo 5 Seconds who has just released a song whose chorus says “If you see that we don’t have good hospitals, it’s their fault / If the schools can’t work, it’s their fault! / If all the young people leave the country, it’s their fault! / Yes, it’s their fault! ” The new message is that they have developed their autonomy and no one will be able to come to power without them. In addition to the kidnappings, they now entered the gasoline business. They are saying to move your fuel you will have to pay. They have developed their own autonomy and are in the process of becoming powerful gangs such as the Mexican narco, the Central American gangs or the Colombian ex-guerrilla.
P Do they replace the state?
R. In their zones they are the state. They manage the electricity, the market, the trade or the money lending among the poor so that they can build your business. Also groups of motorcycle drivers, for example, I would dare to say that half of those who work on the street do it for them because they bought motorcycles so they can work. They also deliver justice in their own way in the neighborhoods and intervene in cases of abuse. In the places where they are, there are no kidnappings and crime is lower.
P. How do you collect crime data?
R. We are a human rights organization that is on the ground so we have a lot of formal and informal relationships with crime. People who have been victims of kidnappings come to us and on the other hand we are on the ground, in the same neighborhoods where the criminals are, where we have direct information about killings or human rights violations. People do not trust the police and do not report to them but approach us. Even so, I think we have a 60% underreporting with respect to the real data.
P. Why is there so much religious among the kidnapped?
R. We are analyzing it. I think there are international factors that play a role. It was very strange to see the leader of 400 eyes threatening the missionaries with putting a bullet in his head. This way of functioning marks a change in the discourse. Before the threats were made with a phone call not in a video to move it on social networks. The Haitian is afraid of the Americans.
P. How did the gang behind the kidnapping of the American missionaries emerge?
R. 400 eyes It is a rural gang that started in Tomasó stealing animals and its name can be translated as the vulgar ones. They settled in the Croix de Buquet area of the capital and have been growing a lot in recent times. According to our data, they are responsible for half of the kidnappings in the country. One victim told us how they took him to a place where there were more than 700 vehicles.
P. How is the treatment of the kidnapped?
R. They want their money as soon as possible and they try to speed up the payment with violence, beatings, hunger, torture … other times they burn the person’s body during a phone call so that their relative can hear the screams. In most kidnappings, women are sexually abused. In 90% of the cases they are released after several days and it is very rare that they are killed. The goal is to have money and also to create a crisis and political destabilization
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