The Political Anatomy of Haiti’s Armed Gangs

Nacla, by Djems Olivier, April 2, 2021

The fall of the Duvalier family dictatorship in February 1986 inaugurated a new cycle of violence in Haiti. Initially, the country faced episodes of violence perpetrated by paramilitary structures implicated in systematic human rights violations. These armed groups actively participated in forging new forms of violence in both urban and rural Haiti, maintaining vestiges of the old regime’s system of terror. Manipulated by neo-Duvalierists, mafia networks, or drug traffickers, these armed groups have been used as death squads with the mission of terrorizing popular spaces and repressing supporters of the Haitian social movement, as scholars such as Laënnec Hurbon have documented. Over time, other armed groups gradually developed in the country’s main urban centers, taking residents of poor and marginalized neighborhoods hostage.

The new forms of violence in Port-au-Prince and certain provincial towns are rooted in decades of political turbulence. After the forced departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, generalized chaos reigned in Haiti. Supporters of Aristide took up arms to demand the return of their leader, while ex-soldiers regained control of their old barracks, which had been transformed into police stations after the dismantling of the Haitian Armed Forces (FAD’H) in 1995. These ex-soldiers tried to exercise police functions by carrying out routine patrols and by making arrests deemed illegal by human rights bodies. These former soldiers demanded payment of several years’ salary and even threatened to rise up against the interim government that succeeded Aristide.

This generalized chaos was profitable for networks of…

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