For a country that tragically seems to always be in bad shape, Haiti looks like it's approaching something unprecedented even in its own unstable history:
At a time when democracy has withered in Haiti and gang violence has spiraled out of control, it's armed men like Cherizier that are filling the power vacuum left by a crumbling government. In December, the U.N. estimated that gangs controlled 60% of Haiti's capital, but nowadays most on the streets of Port-au-Prince say that number is closer to 100%.
"There is, democratically speaking, little-to-no legitimacy" for Haiti's government, said Jeremy McDermott, a head of InSight Crime, a research center focused on organized crime. "This gives the gangs a stronger political voice and more justification to their claims to be the true representatives of the communities."
Among the myriad criminals in Haiti is the most prominent among them, Jimmy Cherzier:
Cherizier, best known by his childhood nickname Barbecue, has become the most recognized name in Haiti.
And here in his territory, enveloped by the tin-roofed homes and bustling streets of the informal settlement La Saline, he is the law.
Internationally, he's known as Haiti's most powerful and feared gang leader, sanctioned by the United Nations for "serious human rights abuses," and the man behind a fuel blockade that brought the Caribbean nation to its knees late last year.
But if you ask the former police officer with gun tattoos running up his arm, he's a "revolutionary," advocating against a corrupt government that has left a nation of 12 million people in the dust.
Cherzier's gang, the G9, is reportedly responsible for the "random killing of civilians, systematic rape, looting and torching villages, kidnapping, and dismemberment." Not sure I'd call that a "revolution."
The scale of violence there, meanwhile, is hard to overstate:
The U.N. registered nearly 2,200 murders in 2022, double the year before. Women in the country describe brutal gang rapes in areas controlled by gangs. Patients in trauma units are caught in the crossfire, ravaged by gunshots from either gangs or police.
"No one is safe," said Peterson Pean, a man with a bullet lodged in his face from being shot by police after failing to stop at a police checkpoint on his way home from work.