EDITED BY PETER ORNER AND LAURA LAMPTON SCOTT
A protest against kidnappings in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Jean.
Jean Marseille recorded these dispatches on his phone while surviving on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from October through December 2022. As the chaos that followed the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 devolved into further lawlessness, Jean witnessed first-hand a city in free fall.
Jean spent the next fourteen years in Florida… In school, kids made fun of him for his English. He told me he got his ass kicked more than a few times. When he was fifteen or so, Jean got into drugs, both buying and selling. He wanted friends, girlfriends; he wanted to be cool. —Peter Orner
Dispatch #3: 10/21/22
Good morning. This is me, Jean Marseille, in Haiti doing a small audio recording about the terrible things that happened last night.
You see, there’s this group led by a guy called Vitelhomme. It’s his own personal gang. They operate directly behind the American embassy. It’s that close. My house is also behind the US embassy toward the Tabarre area.
Vitelhomme is based around Brother Street. You get to Brother Street when you’re coming from Pasteur Gérald Bataille and you go down till you get to the Royal Embassy Road and that leads to Brother Street, and that’s where you’ve got this gang run by Vitelhomme. I know it’s not safe to say this, but this guy, he’s mystical. He won’t die. You can shoot him but he won’t take in the bullets. And his is one of the most powerful gangs at this time right now.
He’s in a conflict with another gang called the 400 Mawozo, which are based around Croix-des-Bouquets. You know Croix-des-Bouquets? That’s the place where Wyclef Jean comes from.
The other night Vitelhomme sent his gang members to go make a kidnapping and come up with some ransom money. Well, as they was crossing to get around the American embassy area, guess what? They got caught up and Vitelhomme’s guys got kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo.
You understand exactly what I’m saying? Gang kidnapped gang. When they kidnapped those guys, one of them had four hundred thousand US dollars on him. So the 400 Mawozo killed him, along with two or three of his friends.
That’s when Vitelhomme sent a message begging them. He said, “You know what? Just give me back the bodies of the guys that you killed and, you know, we’ll call it quits.” He didn’t even want the money.
But the 400 Mawozo didn’t give the bodies back, because, you know, in Haiti when you kill a body you can’t give it back, because of that mystical stuff. And so they burned up those bodies. So now. That’s to let you understand the types of things that are going on. This is me, Jean Marseille, in Haiti, and it’s about 7:30 a.m. in the morning. I haven’t slept all night.
Okay, this is me again, Jean Marseille in Haiti. Getting to the second part of today’s recording.
So like I was explaining, the 400 Mawozo are from the Croix-des-Bouquets area. And Vitelhomme is based behind the American embassy. It’s incredible that this type of stuff is going on so close to the American embassy! And that’s around the same area where MINUSTAH 1 was based in 2004. What I’m saying is that there used to be a lot of security in this area. Not anymore.
So these two gangs, they’re in a type of war. Vitelhomme, he’s gotten really strong now. And it seems like now the 400 Mawozo are losing, because last night, around twelve houses were burned down. A lot of people were killed. A lot of gang members and also a lot of innocent people were killed.
It’s hard to get pictures of these things. It’s not safe to get close. But a lot of times the people that are victims, they’re the ones that come to me telling me about this stuff.
This is me, Jean Marseille. I hope you are starting to understand this a little better. There’s no safety here, anywhere.
1 The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.