The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The State of Gangs

Oct 29, 2022

We publish below a January text from the Organization of Revolutionary Workers (OTR), active in Haiti.

Instead of landing the foreign intervention force before January 9, as an American Congressman had announced, the United States, Canada and the United Nations proceeded to distribute international sanctions targeting Haitian politicians and businessmen for financing gangs and drug trafficking. About 15 of them have already been sanctioned, all of them hated by the poor population. But the poor are even more concerned about the brutal deterioration of their living conditions. Chronic inflation reached a record high of 47.2% in October 2022, and 53.1% year-to-year for food products. The ruling classes have waged a dirty economic war on the working classes, who are becoming even poorer as a result of soaring prices, rising living costs and the sharp drop in purchasing power.

In the meantime, the armed gangs are strengthening their control over the country as the state apparatus decomposes and its officials become more and more like puppets. For almost six years, no elections have been held and the gangs are increasingly filling the state vacuum.

The article below, written last October, looks at the situation in Haiti.

January 14, 2023

While international diplomacy continues with the chimera of sending a military intervention force to Haiti, armed gangs are proliferating throughout the country, intensifying terror in the neighborhoods through shootings, collective kidnappings for ransom, looting and burning of houses. They have been transforming themselves for some time into a sort of embryonic state thanks to the progressive collapse of the official state, starting with the central state apparatus. These criminal gangs, concentrated mainly in the western department (the capital), are defending their territories and constantly seeking to expand them. Thousands of residents of working-class neighborhoods in the metropolitan area are being held hostage and are either fleeing or being used as human shields during confrontations when they have nowhere else to go. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is now surrounded by gangs who control the main entrances and exits, cutting off the connection between the western department and the other departments of the country. During the months of September and October, the country was almost completely paralyzed by the blocking of the main oil terminal. This blockade, carried out by Jimmy Chérisier’s G9, the most publicized gang, was part of a protest movement called “lock.”

With a veritable repressive machine at their disposal, with heavy weapons, these armed bandits grow like mushrooms on the soil of misery and massive unemployment, very often routing the forces of law and order, whose members are frequently shot. They use various devices to collect money, holding the state, the population, businesses, etc. to ransom. The colossal sums collected are used to buy increasingly sophisticated weapons and ammunition in a country where the import of heavy weapons has been banned for several years now by Western powers such as the United States and Canada. In Haiti, from now on, it is the time of the dictatorship of the gangs, who will be rooted out only if the angry and boiling masses begin to act.

"The State is fundamentally special bodies of armed men.” Today’s Haiti perfectly illustrates this idea of Engels, which dates back to the 19th century. Apart from the official band of armed men, in uniform, labeled here as the “Haitian National Police", there are many other bands without uniforms called G9, G-Pèp, 400 Mawozo, 5 Segonn, Chen Mechan, Gran Grif, etc. They all have in common the characteristic of cracking down on the poor classes, repressing them with the utmost rigor, and even taking away their freedom to speak out, even if they are starving or dying of disease. With or without uniforms, the gangs all have in common that they owe their material existence to money taken from the population, officially through taxes, unofficially through ransoms of all kinds. They also have in common that they operate with members from the poor classes, who live in working-class neighborhoods, i.e., accessible to the inhabitants of these neighborhoods when they explode with anger.

The current Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, hostage to all of these gangs, recently stated that his main problem is not the gangs in the neighborhoods, but rather the gangs in the police force, an institution that is corrupt to the bone. Many of the police are connected to the gang leaders who regularly pay them crumbs of the loot in return for their services. Proof that the uniformed watchdogs of the rich and the neighborhood gangs are as close as pigs.

While armed gangs used to be isolated groupings, each in the pay of a businessman, a political figure or an influential member of the state apparatus, they have gradually become more and more organized entities, so much so that they are replacing the central state, taking over its characteristics and functions one by one. In effect, the armed gangs now each control a geographical area over which the central state no longer has any control. Needless to say, the population of this space is subject only to the law of the outlaws, any police or judicial force having been previously chased away or neutralized. Having at their disposal weapons of all calibers and ammunition at will, the armed gangs exert their coercive force on the space thus usurped. These groups then take on certain characteristics of a state: territory, population, repressive force and a machine for ransoming the population, collecting money under various forms.

How can we not add international recognition to this, given the high regard in which they are held by so many foreign diplomats, judging by the language used toward the gangs by the secretary of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, Ms. Helen R. M. La Lime herself, who recognized and welcomed the G9 federation’s initiative? In a report dated September 25, 2020, she stated: "Intentional homicides reported to the police decreased by 12% between June 1st and August 31, with 328 victims (including 24 women and 9 children) compared to 373 (including 9 women and 12 children) in the previous three months. As in previous periods, 74% of these cases were recorded in the western department, where approximately 35% of the population lives and where gang violence is more prevalent. A closer look at the statistics, however, reveals a sudden spike in June (171 intentional homicides reported compared to 132 in May) that coincides with the formation of the G9 alliance and corresponds to the deadliest raids on the Pont-Rouge neighborhood and the Cité Soleil commune in Port-au-Prince. After that, there is a marked decline in these incidents after July (77 homicides reported), once the alliances are reconfigured."

Thus, organized and assured, the dictatorial state of the gangs marks its presence, taking over one by one the functions and prerogatives once exclusive to a state.

Collection of Taxes or Ransom

These armed gangs proceed in their respective areas of operation to the collection of taxes, a function that has been taken away from the State without any sharing. Owners of large and medium-sized businesses, self-employed workers, merchants and retailers, etc., all participate—on pain of disruption of their activities, or worse, summary execution—in the blatant and periodic collection by the gangs that operate in their area. In some cases, these kingpins are paid by the budgets of large companies, as their protection is essential to the continuity of their activities. The management of the mobile telephone companies (Natcom and Digicel) know a lot about this. They are obliged to pay a tribute to the gang leaders of certain zones to ensure the protection of their relay antennas. With their total domination, these gangs do not hesitate to impose this condition even on public institutions, such as the customs services (the one in Port-au-Prince, for example, is controlled by the G9 group), which very often have to pay the right of passage for their containers of goods. A former deputy, Profane Victor, a member of the Shield party, an ally of the ruling PHTK, made death threats to customs agents so that they would deliver his suspect containers without verification. He declared that he was going to call on the G9 gang to come and remove the said containers.

Bandits Financed by the Public Treasury

Some gangs are financed by the public treasury. No one can pretend to be unaware of this: this practice—which is not new. It was systematized by former presidents Michel Martelly and Jovenel Moïse. This is the case with G9, for example: by sponsoring the formation of this federation of gangs, Jovenel Moïse wanted to quell a protest movement that targeted him in 2018. G9 spokesman Jimmy Chèrisier, a.k.a. Barbecue, has never hidden his deep sadness at the assassination of the former head of state, whom he says he considers a father.

When the main provider of funds, the state, refuses to graciously grant a request for funding, the gangs use all sorts of pressure tactics to extract money from the state, ranging from seizing public service vehicles to blocking roads. They also use this pressure tactic for other purposes, such as demanding the head of a senior public official who does not suit them. The G9 gang, for example, obtained the dismissal of several of Jovenel Moïse’s ministers who had publicly protested its ties with the government.

Control of the Main Roads

Today, the Republic of Haiti is no longer “one and indivisible” as some politicians used to claim. It is split from one part to another by the blockage of the main national roads controlled by armed gangs. These gangs are no longer satisfied with the isolated attacks and small-scale kidnappings that used to characterize them. Now they have complete control over the major roads they control. They determine the hours of access, sometimes provide traffic services, and install their own toll booths at strategic points, thus providing themselves a lucrative source of income. This is not their only source of income.

Deserted Industrial Areas

Faced with a failing state and exhilarated by their successes, the bandits then embark on a process of expansion, hence their recurrent wars to wrest parcels of territory. The larger the area they control, the more institutions are held to ransom. During the last confrontation between G9 and G-Pèp, more than a hundred people died in Cité Soleil, the largest slum in the capital where most of the workers live, near the industrial zone.

These clashes have slowly killed the industrial zone of Port-au-Prince, which is besieged on all sides by these armed groups who constantly beat workers, rob them after payday and rape female workers. Some companies have gone so far as to fire workers due to insecurity and fuel shortages. With the G9 gang blocking road access to the Port-au-Prince customs, subcontractors are unable to clear their containers of raw materials from the United States or to send those of completed orders. The mass of unemployed, already enormous, is growing.

Social Assistance in Disguise

In order to protect themselves, the bandits try to win the good graces of the local residents they hold captive. Most of the armed groups present themselves as social workers by distributing from time to time crumbs from their booty, in kind or in cash, obviously taken from their kidnapping operations. Even more seriously, they substitute for the civil registry offices, as some gang leaders provide anyone who asks for them with national identification cards and other civil status documents. These “public services", which are almost inaccessible through legal channels, are offered in particular by the G9 gangs that support the cause of former President Jovenel Moïse. The gangs thus seek to protect themselves from rival gangs and the police, by trying to win over a segment of the population that shares their area of operation, an area which has been abandoned by the central state. This offers all sorts of privileges to the gangs and makes them look like benefactors, even entrepreneurs.

Gang Interference in the Political Game

Gangs are getting involved in politics. By controlling neighborhoods, they are in a position to influence the outcome of elections (or more bluntly to decide the official outcome). Thus, the larger the captive population, representing a high electoral potential, the more the gang leader will be able to negotiate a good deal during the elections with the wealthy parties and/or candidates. Moreover, since gangs are better equipped than the police, they are used by the political power as auxiliaries in the repression of popular protest movements, for example.

Bandits Undermine the Justice System

Instead of the justice system prosecuting the criminals, the gangs are the ones who bring the judicial institutions to heel. One by one, courts, symbols of justice and of the power of the bourgeois state, were attacked and closed. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Croix-des-Bouquets was burned by the 400 Mawozo gang. A few months before, on Friday, June 10, 2022, Izo’s gang, the group called 5 Seconds, launched a full-scale attack followed by the occupation of the Port-au-Prince prosecutor’s office. The entire legal and judicial pack, lawyers, judges, clerks, etc., was chased away immediately and never returned. The State has yet to respond.

Prisons, especially those in the metropolitan area, are regularly attacked by bandits seeking to free their associates who have been apprehended by the police.

The Kingpins Reign Supreme

Armed groups are now actively substituting themselves for the state. They determine for the population when to stay at home and when to go out to do their business, on pain of reprisals, and these orders are better respected than official government orders. They have even federated at the initiative of the government and various international actors.

Moreover, aware that the fate of the country is only at stake in the capital, the armed groups have adopted a strategic plan of progression, gradually surrounding the Western Department. The consequences are obvious and devastating: scarcity of agricultural products and petroleum products, explosion of prices. The population finds itself asphyxiated. And, pushing the absurd to its last limit, the gang leader Jimmy Chérizier, alias Barbecue, who is very well known in the media, has communicated his own political calendar, as well as his program, which begins to run with the departure of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Some police stations in Port-au-Prince or in the provinces have fallen under the control of bandits who made the police officers leave the city.

It is an indisputable fact that the Haitian state no longer controls anything and that there is no real force to oppose the dangerous rise of armed groups. The latter are only one step away from completely overthrowing the state apparatus and officially replacing it. What has prevented them from doing so this far? The absence of an undisputed leader, perhaps. The divergent groups have not yet found a figure with whom they can all identify. One example is former head of state Michel Martelly, nostalgic for the Duvalier dictatorship, who provided the gangs with a lot of arms and ammunition. He even stood with Cedras and Michel Francois in 1991 during the military coup against Aristide that left thousands dead. Martelly presents a profile as a leader of these armed gangs, but he is not yet unanimously accepted.

Whatever is the focal point of the illicit activities of these armed groups, the Western Department is not the only one to suffer. The repercussions are national. Port-au-Prince is both the economic and political capital, and is the entry point for various imported products that must then be redistributed to other cities.

In October 2022 and since then, there has been a real onslaught of violence. In addition to kidnappings for ransom, their favorite sport, which have never stopped, gangs have increased the number of shootings, with their attendant deaths and injuries, in a country where most hospitals can close for lack of fuel and where, in the few that are functioning, patients are in distress due to a lack of oxygen.

Violence and terror imposed by gangs is not a phenomenon unique to Haiti. Armed bandits grouped together in popular neighborhoods to crack down on the population is a product of capitalism, which generates unemployment, misery and injustices of all kinds.

The citadel of capitalism, the United States, Haiti’s large neighbor, is rife with gangs challenging law enforcement in the world’s richest and most militarized country. In Chicago alone, gangs have already killed more than 500 people and injured about 3,000. Because this outrageous toll is lower than the homicide rates in 2020 and 2021, the authorities declare they have made progress! Nonetheless, the balance of power between these gangs and the power of the U.S. state is nothing like the situation that exists in Haiti.

What is particular in Haiti is the extent of the phenomenon and the level of collusion between these kingpins and the government, which uses them to silence any opposition to the government, to intimidate the inhabitants of the shantytowns and to nip in the bud any popular protest movements.

What is even more particular is the evolution of these isolated bands into a force capable of controlling the state, or even gradually replacing it.

The extent of the gangs’ hold on the country is not without its problems for the Haitian bourgeoisie, even though it is largely responsible for their development and uses them in part for its own benefit. It probably also poses a problem for imperialism, which is mainly responsible for the situation but which probably does not want to see a new lawless zone develop in the hands of groups that cannot be controlled. A U.N. Security Council resolution has just decided to impose sanctions against Jimmy Chérisier. The Haitian Prime Minister and the U.N. Secretary General have called for an international armed intervention to end the chaos.

The intervention of foreign imperialist forces on the pretext of helping the population has never brought a solution anywhere. We have seen the results, for example, in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali. Haiti has already had a rich experience of these American or U.N. interventions for a century. U.N. troops have been rightly accused of bringing cholera to Haiti a decade ago. China’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. has expressed concern that sending an international military force could “face resistance and even provoke violent confrontations with the population”. The imperialist powers, primarily the United States, are known to be the main culprits in the situation.

All the proposals envisaged by the bourgeoisie’s personnel for a way out of the crisis obviously exclude the intervention of the popular masses. But it is they, and only they, who can put the armed gangs out of action and offer another future to the population. They have the strength to do so, as they have proven on several occasions over the past 40 years, beginning with the “uprooting” by the population of the “Tontons Macoutes", the armed gangs of the dictator Duvalier, after his overthrow in 1986. There currently are many initiatives of collective resistance to the armed gangs. In one neighborhood, residents are violently pushing back gangs that are trying to set up shop, especially in provincial cities where they are unable to set foot. In another, bystanders successfully thwart a kidnapping attempt. Elsewhere, demonstrations obtain the return of kidnapped people. The inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods have the means, collectively, to know everything about the gangs, their organization, their places of detention or arms caches, etc. But for the moment, the resistance initiatives are isolated, without organization or overall plan. They are not yet large enough to take over.

The situation in Haiti foreshadows one of the forms of degeneration that the capitalist state can take without the intervention of the working classes. In the absence of a revolutionary intervention of the latter, and of a party capable of leading them to victory, the collapse of the state does not benefit the proletariat of the cities and of the countryside.

The working class, like all other popular categories, is confronted with the gangs’ hold on society. The working class, which has mobilized several times in the last few years to obtain wage increases, could play a role in a massive dismantling of the gangs by the population. Only it can lead the fight not only against the gangs, which are one of the symptoms of the disease, but against the disease itself, capitalism, by attacking the root of the evil, namely the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie.