PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Youri Mevs knew that the call was coming, and she was terrified.
Mevs is a member of one of the richest families in Haiti; she owns Shodecosa, Haiti’s largest industrial park, which warehouses 93 percent of the nation’s imported food. Like everyone else, she has watched with despair as her country descended into chaos since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Her office got the call one early morning in August. It was from Jimmy Cherizier — aka Barbecue, a former policeman who leads the G9 gang coalition which controls the coastal strip of Port-au-Prince. Most of Haiti’s food and gasoline flows through his domain, and he can stop it with a single word.
Barbecue’s demand: $500,000 a month, a “war chest” he claimed would be used to buy food for the hungry and fight for democracy.
Pay the price, no problems. Refuse, and Shodecosa would be ransacked, and the gangs also would block the roads around the port terminal owned by the Mevs family.
Mevs knew the threat was credible. Three neighboring warehouses were looted in June. It came down to math: “How much do we make? Can we afford it?” The answer was no.
Should she fight back? Again, no. “We are not going to shoot a gun to defend a bag of rice.”
There was nowhere to turn for help. In Haiti, there is no functioning government. For decades, the country was ruled by political strongmen supported by armed gangs; with Moise’s killing, the state collapsed and the gangs were unbound.