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Operation "Bwa Kale" (Peeled Wood)


Is a violent popular justice movement the answer to Haiti's prayers?

What a terrible question to ask to start an op-ed. Ironically, we are using prayer and violence in the same breath. We have come to a point where we commingle the sixth commandment rule found in the holy scriptures with violent self-defense for peace and longevity. Humans have violated the same law throughout history in the name of conquest and self-defense. "Thou shall not kill" has become an afterthought when oppressed peoples need freedom. To understand the population's anger, picture the fear of living simultaneously in poverty and terror.

For a long time, Haiti's peace has always been violated by different groups: corrupt government officials, the army, zenglendo, bandits, chimères, makout, and assassins. In the last three years, there has been a surge in gang violence and crime, with armed groups carrying out kidnappings, robberies, and other violent attacks. The situation in Haiti has remained tense. The gangs have brought fear and further erosion of all institutions. It has hampered all efforts to stabilize the country and caused a deepening humanitarian crisis. The country faces severe food and medicine shortages, and many Haitians struggle to access necessities. The international community has been working to provide aid and support to the country, but the challenges are extensive, and the road to stability remains uncertain.

The population has finally said enough is enough. Facing this complex and multi-faceted set of challenges and the lack of results from the efforts and collaboration from national and international actors, residents from various quarters in the country have decided to take matters into their own hands. There have been reports of multiple gang members killed throughout the last two weeks.

Before this uprising started, we wrote an article condemning "koupe tèt boule kay." We saw it as barbaric and ineffective. We were even more critical of vigilantism. We proposed not to use it as a solution or tool against gang activities. As the terror grabbed hold even more of the population, puritans like us took the censorious approach to avoid all bloodshed. We spoke about the country's reputation being impacted by images that remind the world of religious immolation, as in Genesis 38. These kinds of public display punishment were seen only in the 15th century for crimes like treason, heresy, and witchcraft. Never did we expect to see them occurring now. We will spare our sensitive readers the graphic description of the scenes currently on the ground in Haiti.

This phenomenon is called vigilantism, popular justice, or extrajudicial killing in extreme cases. Haitians call their new movement "Operation Bwa Kale (Peeled wood)." It is reminiscent of the scenes in the Nigerian movie Isskaba. What is occurring is no different from claiming the reasonable fear at the heart of self-defense laws in many US States.   

It begs the question: Can we restore peace with more violence and bloodshed? What are the consequences of immolation and severed heads in the streets for the country's image and the tourism industry? How will we use this movement to gain momentum for sustainable change? How long can the population maintain the pressure alone? Is everyone at risk of bloody revenge from the bandits and their sponsors? Were we pushed to the brink of chaos and violence among ourselves to distract us from something more nefarious? How can the diaspora cooperate with the people in the struggle to eliminate Haiti's corrupt leaders and street thugs? Is anyone heading this vigilante justice movement? Whose providing material support (Machetes and other weapons) to the population? 

This article is a synthesis and a case study analysis following interviews and HAMREC weekly brainstorming sessions reflecting what value popular justice brings to the ugly fight against banditry in Haiti. While we recognize that six pages of opinions cannot fully answer so many questions, we will focus on recommended solutions that can avert a disaster and more bloodshed.

As a disclaimer, HAMREC does not condone violence anywhere. Our group comprises peaceful thinkers and analysts with moral and religious values that do not advocate violence in any form and under any circumstances. We follow the rule of law, and we respect societal order.

The term vigilante comes from the Latin word "vigilans" meaning 'watching'. It has taken a new connotation to represent citizen watchers against what they consider to be crimes in their communities. A police force is, in a way, an organized and official body of watchmen.

The type of vigilantism we now see in Haiti results from lawlessness. While many of us are motivated to address crime, popular justice will unlikely lead to functional changes in preventing and reducing crime. Instead, it can lead to fanning the flames of violence and chaos. It is important to note that while community-led movements or advocacy efforts can potentially initiate and bring temporary relief, these actions should be peaceful and lawful and aim to work within existing legal frameworks to promote justice and accountability. The aggressive and violent young gangsters are, in the eyes of many, despicable human beings. As much as we despise them for their heinous acts, we should not debase ourselves on a revenge killing in the street. Citizen arrest and neighborhood watch should be the limit. It ensures due process and the sparing of innocent lives. In other words, the movement should strive to take prisoners and use execution as a last resort.

In a previous article posted on, we brushed up on vigilantism and why it was not the leading solution then. However, depending on the circumstances, vigilantism can be legally justified and provide precise remediation to a specific ill in society when the actors follow due process. Due process refers to the legal procedures and protections that ensure fairness and justice in the legal system. Haiti's capacity for proper judicial proceedings is often undermined by corruption, political interference, lack of trained resources and funding, and basic infrastructure at all levels, including prisons. It has led to a lack of trust in the system, which can discourage people from seeking justice or reporting crimes. 

The current non-elected administration responded by asking the population for restraint and giving more time for law enforcement to mount an offensive against the different criminal groups operating overtly in Haiti. Instead of police-coordinated action, and 21 months following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, we only witness gang leaders using media platforms to spew nonsense to win hearts and minds for their violent and illegal acts.

It is almost as if, by design, there is a desire for gang activities to continue to distract the Haitian people, including those in the diaspora. With our preoccupation with gangs wreaking havoc, we fail to talk about the rampant corruption in Haiti and the investigation into President Jovenel Moise's assassination. We barely talk about the political and commercial elite fighting to control the country's resources. We lost focus on the crimes committed by drug dealers, and we no longer care about $1.50 tariffs on remittances that have not gone toward education as promised. We ignore the prosecution of those responsible for misusing the Petrocaribe funds. We fail to focus on our universities that are no longer recognized worldwide. We are not discussing the upcoming elections that will eventually give us a puppet president and senators with only primary education. We are not talking about our dying agriculture sector. According to the world bank, we can barely feed 45% of the population. We do not discuss some of our exports that the US does not want to buy anymore. We have lost all desire to look at all these things that cause more misery for the people of Haiti.

The divide and conquer strategy has worked to make the fighting groups vulnerable and distracted while the ruling class works to satisfy their selfish interests. One of the outcomes of that division is the social unrest and violence among the masses we are currently witnessing. It sets the country back decades and wreaks havoc on its fragile state. Even the ruling class stands to lose everything.  

Our recommendations

Dialog and Unity -- We have not seen this level of unity since the AIDS march on April 20, 1990. Many Haitians seem to favor the bloodshed of Operation "Peeled Wood" to wipe the slate clean. They unite around fighting fire with fire.

Our message is to use this movement to encourage dialogue and reconciliation, build trust, promote national unity, and force institutional changes. We see that some political parties in Haiti have largely remained quiet. It is time for them to get involved and foster spaces for dialogue while promoting initiatives and work with mutual respect. It is time for all political candidates to build partnerships with organizations and community groups to mobilize support for efforts to address gangsterism and promote national unity. It can involve working with community leaders and grassroots organizations to identify and address the root causes of gang violence and promote social and economic development in marginalized communities.

Build a Maximum Security Prison -- Nayib Bukele, the leader of El Salvador, knew that he could not get any lasting results against gang activities in his country without a prison system and sound infrastructure early on. He formulated a seven phases plan to win. He took great care to avoid promoting bloodshed in the streets of San Salvador. He had an army and a police force willing to work with him. In Haiti, we have neither of those in large numbers to sustain confrontation with the vicious young folks who were given powerful weapons to cowardly massacre and terrorize the population. Any success of this new "Bwa Kale" movement against gang activities will depend primarily on a new prison infrastructure in the country.

We recommend the Bukele Model and erecting a building that can house 10,000+ men and women. It can be done with the help of the diaspora. It is an endeavor that can potentially create jobs for 500 Haitians. It will be a symbol of justice. Holding individuals and groups accountable for their actions can help to deter criminal activity and promote a sense of justice and fairness. It can help reform and strengthen the judicial system and promote transparency and accountability in government.

Recruit more law enforcement officers -- Improving the capacity of the police and other law enforcement agencies can help to reduce the prevalence of gang violence and restore a sense of security in communities around the country. It can involve providing training and resources for police officers. Funding for the police force in Haiti can come from various sources, including government funds, international aid, and private donations. However, given the country's challenges, it is essential to develop sustainable funding strategies to support the police force in the long term.

Promote economic development -- Promoting social cohesiveness and lessening the allure of criminal behavior may be accomplished by addressing the underlying socioeconomic issues that underlie gangsterism, such as poverty and a lack of opportunity. It may include encouraging economic growth, creating jobs, and spending on social services and education. It is one aspect that HAMREC is fully dedicated to promoting as part of its research on Haiti's resources and capacity.


In conclusion, let us repeat what we said before; Humans can be creative and, at other times, destructive. We embrace one or the other depending on what we need to accomplish. This complex mix of positive and negative traits forms the basis of our characters. We choose to go one way or the other based on factors that include education, economic environment, established laws, culture, and social class. While some of us spend hours on something to turn it to perfection, others are not willing to spend even 20 seconds brushing their teeth. Others only work to cause significant harm to others for quick gains. Ultimately it is all about money and power. That is the basis of gangsterism in Haiti. It is not about the purpose of belonging that we often see elsewhere.

Violent and unchecked criminal activities will continue to thrive in places like Haiti, where the disparity in wealth is so palpable that it smells. We can resolve these long-term problems when all stakeholders can be committed to finding a resolution for the common good. It all falls on the shoulder of narrowing the wealth gaps in poor neighborhoods and ensuring the economy works for all. We must enshrine anti-gang measures in the constitution. Haitian Gangsters are terrorists. As such, the Haitian penal code laws should deal with them with heavy penalties, even death if needed. Erect prisons to house them for eternity, if necessary.

We shout, let history follow its course. We need to step back and let the scenes play out. Designing and implementing a concrete plan to turn things around in Haiti is now or never. While popular justice is a dangerous and problematic practice that undermines the rule of law and can lead to serious human rights abuses, individuals and communities must show zero tolerance to obtain peace of mind. It can be done through legal and democratic means rather than violence. At HAMREC, we favor citizen arrests and collecting intelligence from captives. We want to identify the patrons, the traffickers, and all the high-level government officials in this terror campaign. We must be vigilant and identify all parties involved in gang activities, blocking them from coming near any future election in the country. A Dominican general pledged to secure the border to help the movement. Let us take advantage of that.

Hello gangsters, bandits, zengledos, Zagribay, thieves, chimè, rat pa KK, godfathers, sponsors of terrorists, rapists, corrupt law enforcement officers -- the indigenous army is coming to terrorize you in return. A new sheriff is in town, "bwa kale, nèt ale."


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