Can Haiti’s gangs help build a better future for the country?

Jess DiPierro Obert -Freelance journalist based in Port-au-Prince (The New Humanitarian)

Gangs have been part of the Haitian political landscape for decades – often deployed by leaders to rally support or quell opposition – but violence and kidnappings have reached unprecedented levels in recent months, making it harder for the government and aid groups to tackle the country’s overlapping humanitarian crises. Persistent street protests have also thwarted business activities in the capital since 2018, largely involving restless youths angry about alleged government corruption and the lack of economic prospects.

“Gana Ti Zile”, whose nickname roughly translates to “small island”, joined a gang when he was 14. Now 35, he has become one of the leaders of G-Pèp, or People’s Gang, which controls part of Cité Soleil’s Brooklyn neighbourhood.

Unlike other gangs that have turned to kidnappings for ransom – even against Haiti’s poor, who can barely pay for food – Ti Zile said G-Pèp is helping the community, for example when the streets flood or to ease deliveries of international aid.

“There wouldn’t be war if there was work,” he told The New Humanitarian. “The youth would wake up to work – not fight – because they are making money. But when there are no jobs, the guys wake up, they sit with their guns, they finish drinking and smoking and… they want to shoot in Brooklyn.”

One former gang member said he joined the “Soley 19” gang when he was just 14. Now in his 40s, he works with charities to help register children for school. He also said he volunteers to help with infrastructure projects in Cité Soleil. He declined to be named for security reasons.

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