In the past week, fierce fighting between downtown Port-au-Prince neighborhoods has again erupted after months of relative peace.
Some analysts question whether the confrontations now raging haven’t been engineered to provide a pretext for Washington and Ottawa to launch their third foreign military occupation of Haiti in the past three decades.
The neighborhood at the center of the conflict is Belair, which a criminal gang dominates under the leadership of a convicted kidnapper named Kempes Sanon. Sentenced to life in jail, Sanon escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets prison in December 2021 and has since transformed Belair into a major kidnapping base of operations, one of five run by ransom-financed gangs around the capital region. The other four are: Village de Dieu and Grand Ravine, run by Johnson “Izo” Alexandre and Renel “Ti Lapli” Destina respectively, in the southwest flank of Port-au-Prince; the eastern suburb comprising Tabarre, Torcelle, and Croix-des-Bouquets run by Innocent Vitelhomme’s “Break Down the Barriers” (Kraze Baryè) gang in league with Joseph “Lanmò Sanjour” Wilson’s “400 Mawozo” gang; and finally, north of the capital, Canaan, dominated by the gang of Jerry “Jeff” Jeudy, who was reportedly killed by Haitian police on Feb. 8.
All of those gangs are part of a confederation called the G-Pèp, headed by Gabriel “Ti Gabriel” Jean-Pierre, based in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Port-au-Prince’s vast slum Cité Soleil.
The G-Pèp is arrayed against an anti-crime alliance of neighborhood groups known as the “Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies, Mess with One, You Mess with All” (G9).
In the summers of 2021 and 2022, fierce battles took place between the opposing federations, but there was peace in recent months. In December 2022, Christ-Roy “Krisla” Chéry, a G9 leader in the neighborhood of Ti Bois which borders Grand Ravine, made a truce with Ti Lapli and Izo. Until now, that truce is in effect.
In November 2022, G9 spokesman Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier’s neighborhoods of Delmas 2, 4, and 6 made peace with the gang of neighboring Ruelle Maillart. But that is now unraveling.
For weeks, Kempes Sanon’s Baz Belè (Belair Gang) had been sniping down on residents of Cherizier’s lower Delmas and an adjoining neighborhood, Rue St. Martin, but Cherizier chose not to respond. However, on Mon., Feb. 27, a straw broke the camel’s back. Sanon’s snipers shot three people in the Rue St. Martin neighborhood: one died on the spot, another died at the hospital, and the third is still in the hospital.
Sanon’s gunmen fired the fatal shots from a school named Collège Nosirel Lhérisson. In retaliation, the G9 counter-attacked to take over the school and make it unusable as a firing base. But the Belair gang has not been easily dislodged, and the fighting between the G9’s Lower Delmas and the G-Pèp’s Belair has been fierce ever since.
Meanwhile, war has also broken out between Belair and its neighbor, Solino, a former ally. Solino, like the neighborhoods of Ti Bois and Carrefour Feuilles, is home to many Haitian National Police (PNH) officers. They used to be friendly with Kempes Sanon, even driving him in their police cars. But then last week, PNH Inspector Frantz Sébastien Jean-Charles Jean and his daughter, whom he was taking to school, and six others were kidnapped in Delmas, according to the Haitian Times, citing local media.
“For the kidnapping industry these days, each time they take someone from Delmas 19, 31, 33, 75, the easiest route to Belair runs through Solino,” Cherizier said. He estimates that 90% of the Port-au-Prince’s hostages are now harbored in Belair.
According to Cherizier, Kempes Sanon’s gang “wanted passage through Solino with their kidnapped people. The Solino policemen revolted, and that started the fight. It’s a fight between police of Solino and Belair.”
In recent years, Solino has always been a refuge, where refugees from fighting in the Ruelle Maillart neighborhood were housed in the St. Michel Church housing.
“Belair is a part of the G-Pèp,” Cherizier explained, “but Solino had always been more or less neutral. Solino’s resistance to acting as a passageway for hostages is the reason why Belair is now attacking it.”
On Sat., Mar. 4, a squad of Cherizier’s fighters were passing through Ruelle Maillart after battling the Belair gang. The Ruelle Maillart gang, a Belair ally in the past, opened fire on the G9 troops from behind, killing one important Delmas 4 soldier with a bullet in the face.
“My men were outraged at this betrayal of the truce, and when you’re a leader, there are times when you have to make a decision,” Cherizier told Haïti Liberté. “If I didn’t take a decision, they might, in their deep anger, attack Maillart to avenge their comrade by themselves. So the whole week, without letting up, I’ll give Maillart a response for their treachery, which killed one of my men.”
The Belair gang has burned Solino’s St. Michel Church and many houses. The leading human rights group, RNDDH, says some 60 people have died, but its tallies have become discredited due to recent scandals swirling around it. Nonetheless, radio reports indicate that dozens have been killed.
On Mar. 3, a bullet from the conflict with Belair hit an electrical pole in Delmas 4 causing a major fire which burned over an acre of small houses.
The fighting is also making an already terrible economic situation worse as many people are left homeless, jobless, or must flee their neighborhood.
“The G9 is in a defensive mode,” Cherizier said. “We don’t want to take over anyone’s territory. We are just defending ourselves. For every action, there is a reaction.”