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In Haiti, “gangs” reside where caring for community and corruption collide

CAP-HAITIEN — After Jameson Davilma’s mother died from an illness when he was 13, the boy often counted on neighbors near his Cité Soleil home to survive. Sometimes, usually late at night, a neighbor might send him on en errand to buy food. Only then would Davilma have a bite from what the neighbor shared.

“Sometimes, I cried when I got hungry,” Davilma, now 30, recalls. “I’d wake up and couldn’t find even a piece of bread or a little coffee. I’d spent the whole morning with no food — couldn’t even buy a small marinad. Then by noon, my stomach was filled with gas.”

At the time, in 2005, a group of thugs who called themselves the “chimè” often hung out outside of their homes in Citè Soleil. Known as vociferous supporters of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the thugs also helped residents of the slum.


With many residents turning to neighborhood groups for basic services where Haiti’s government has failed, gangs are empowered, filling a leadership vacuum and fueling the country’s long cycle of violence and repression.

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