EDITED BY PETER ORNER AND LAURA LAMPTON SCOTT
Still from a video by rapper Izo, leader of 5 Segonn, a well-known gang in Port-Au-Prince.
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 firsthand a city in free fall.
Jean is a singular journalist. He may not have a degree in journalism, or any degree at all, but I’ve never in my life seen anybody as fearless—he’ll talk to anybody about anything, at any time . . . Jean’s specialty is understanding the economics of how people get by when they’ve next to nothing to get by on. He understands the hustle of survival because he lives it. — Peter Orner
Dispatch #7: 11/07/22
Good afternoon. It’s me, Jean Marseille, in Haiti. It’s about eleven o’clock right now; 10:53, to be exact.
The reason that Port-au-Prince is the way it is, the overwhelming suffering that’s going on right now, it’s that the people that have guns in their hands, they have to find a way to eat with that gun. Because there ain’t no working here. There ain’t no choice out here. You can either just slave yourself to death or you find a gun. Because the mulattos and the bourgeoisie—the people with the moneys upstairs, in the big places up in the hills—they’re not going to allow any poor person to get up. There’s no middle class in Haiti. You’re rich or you’re poor.
The reason that everybody’s going all crazy right now is because, since the assassination of the president on July 7, 2021, the government can’t control the gangs. And the gangs are doing their best to get all they can before it’s all over.
These gangs that you see around Port-au-Prince area are controlled by the bourgeoisie with all the money. Somebody is paying these gangs off, getting them guns. The gangs get together with all kinds of people from the government—deputies, the magistrates, the prime ministers, the president, when there was a president, and these people control the ports where things come in on the boats. They allow all the guns and all the bullets to go through. Big containers full of what we call “pèpè”—used clothes from people in the United States—come into Haiti all the time. Weapons and guns could be wrapped up real nice inside these clothes. Understand?
But the big mistake these bourgeoisie made is they put too many heavy weapons in the hands of these guys in the slums, these guys in the ghetto. Now there’s no way of stopping what’s going on. It’s totally out of hand now. These gangs have taken over Haiti. There’s something like forty-eight gangs. I can only name the popular ones.
In Martissant, you got Izo and 5 Segonn (5 Seconds).1 Izo is a young guy, about twenty-seven years old, and he’s the second leader behind 5 Segonn. Izo, of Martissant, he’s a gang rapper, known all over Facebook. American people who don’t know really what’s going on in Haiti, and the Haitians that live abroad that like rap music, they think he’s just a rapper, not knowing that everything he says in his music, we witnessed, and he did it.
Then you have Krisla. Krisla is a well-dressed type of young man who lives around the same areas, but he’s from Tibwa. Then you have the guys from Grand Ravine. Then you have the ones they call Ti Lapli. These are the three or four popular ones around Martissant areas. And there’s many more in Baillergeau and Cité Soleil and Delmas Six and Ouest and Saint-Martin. All these areas are controlled by gangs. Delmas Six is where this guy Barbecue is located; that’s where he has his people. Barbecue was a cop. He used to do dirty jobs for the old president, Jovenel Moïse. He was a good friend of the ex-president. Then you have the other side of the area, which are the 400 Mawozo.
And the news lately is that Vitelhomme’s gang has proven itself to be the most powerful in Port-au-Prince. He’s been sending envelopes with bullets to make sure that everybody around knows, everyone that has businesses, that they have to pay, up to thirty or forty thousand dollars monthly, for protection from him and other gangs.
People say that the 400 Mawozo led by Lamo Sanjou2 kidnapped the sixteen Americans and one Canadian.3 But Lamo Sanjou was not the one that kidnapped them. It was Vitelhomme 4who took the Americans and the Canadian to his spot. Then he made a deal with Lamo Sanjou.
The reason for the kidnapping was to try to get Yonyon, who was in prison, out by making an exchange.5 Yonyon, he’s the founder and the creator of 400 Mawozo, but he was in prison for some things he did back in the day. So they were trying to get him out by making an exchange for the hostages.
But Lamo Sanjou and Vitelhomme, they got greedy and decided to make a different exchange. They were saying to themselves, “Yonyon is not going to be out of jail anytime soon, so we’re just gonna take over. And we’re going to be the ones leading everything here.” So, instead, they asked for $1 million for the sixteen Americans and one Canadian.
Yonyon, in prison, you know when he heard about that, he kind of got upset, because he said, “I just want to be out, and you release them for money?”
Everybody was thinking the United States of America was going to come and do an intervention to save the sixteen Americans and one Canadian. But they never did. After the Haitian government gave the money to release the kidnapped people, they all went home to America and Canada. The United States right now has put a warrant out for some of these gang members, Vitelhomme, Lamo Sanjou. A million dollars the United States will give for each one.
But here’s the thing I can’t understand: why does America have to put warrants out when America has the power to just go in and get them? The FBI, the CIA, and the American government still leave these guys around just to, you know, do crimes, kidnap, rape, and kill—and take people’s homes.
Okay, these are some things from today. It’s Jean in Haiti, saying goodbye for right now.