PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — An ex-police officer considered by many to be Haiti’s most powerful gang leader warned Wednesday that he would fight any international armed force deployed to the Caribbean country if it commited any abuses.
Jimmy Chérizier, best known as “Barbecue,” also urged Haitians to mobilize against the government. “We are asking the population to rise up,” he said at a news conference.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has led Haiti since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, has been pushing for the deployment of a foreign armed force since October to help fight powerful gangs that are estimated to now control 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince.
In late July, the African nation of Kenya offered to lead a multinational force, and the U.S. said earlier this month that it would put forward a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to authorize a non-U.N. multinational mission.
Chérizier said he would welcome a foreign force if it were to arrest the prime minister and people he described as corrupt politicians and local police allegedly selling ammunitions and guns in Haiti’s slums.
“If the foreign force comes to help and provide security for life to start over again, we will also applaud,” he said.
But he said Haitians would rise up if any international force repeated the actions of previous U.N. peacekeepers, including committing sexual abuses and inadvertently introducing cholera into water sources.
“We will fight against them until our last breath,” he said. “It will be a fight of the Haitian people to save the dignity of our country.”
The United Nations had no comment, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Chérizier, who has been accused by authorities of masterminding several massacres in recent years and of organizing a fuel blockade last year that paralyzed Haiti for nearly two months, said the group he leads, G9 Family and Allies, is no longer warring with another group known as G-Pep.
“We became one,” he said. “We love life a lot.”
Chérizier is the only Haitian under U.N. sanctions, with the Security Council saying he “has engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti and has planned, directed, or committed acts that constitute serious human rights abuses.”
He called on the Ministry of Education to reopen schools in Cite Soleil and other slums that have been closed because warring gangs who are raping and killing people. The violence has displaced nearly 200,000 Haitians whose homes have been torched by the gangs.
Chérizier spoke to nearly two dozen journalists at an outdoors construction site in Port-au-Prince. He wore sandals, white pants and an orange hoodie emblazoned with a religious symbol used in Vodou.
He was surrounded by several G9 members carrying small handguns visible under their clothes, unlike his previous media appearances at which they openly held assault rifles.