Amid demonstrations against gang violence and corruption in Haiti, a pastor publishes videos with gang members
Issued on: Modified:
In Haiti, videos of a pastor posing with weapons, which appeared online near the end of June, quickly gained traction on social media. The man was identified as 34-year-old Jean Gonzales Jamison Théodore, better known as “Pastor Berger Moderne” [which translates to Modern Shepherd]. In several of the videos, he is accompanied by several well-known gang members in Port-au-Prince.
One of our Observers in Port-au-Prince, Niepce Zéphirin, sent us three of the videos that are circulating on social media.
In the first video, Pastor Berger Moderne filmed himself holding two large rifles, with a third slung across his chest. He also has two small handguns strapped to his pants. At the end of the video, one of the guns goes off, and the pastor screams and laughs as shots fire into the air.
In the second video, the young pastor shows off a collection of guns lined up behind the wall behind him. He goes down the line, picking up one after the other. Pastor Berger explains he is in Grande Ravine, a popular district south of Port au Prince.
“We want to show people the kind of peace we want to make in the country. It is a question of peace between the Ti Mepri (Little Defiance in English) [Editor’s note: Ti Mepri is the leader of a prominent gang] and the other gentlemen of Grand Ravine.”
As he films himself with the weapons against the wall in the background, Pastor Berger says people in Haiti are tired of their current quality of life.
“They want a better life; they want a change in the country so that people who live abroad can come and invest in the country and help those who cannot support themselves,” he says.
The third video that Niepce shared with the Observers shows Pastor Berger talking with Ti Mepri, who appears with his face entirely covered by a camouflage scarf except for his eyes.
In this video, he is accompanied by one of the very powerful gang leaders, known by the name of Ti Mepri (Little Contempt), who was deported from the United States.
Niepce contributed to an Observers Direct episode filmed in Port-au-Prince in 2018. The first segment looked at preachers’ influence in Haiti, including Pastor Berger.
Gang violence in Haiti
In Port-au-Prince, protests against government corruption and the impunity enjoyed by powerful gangs have taken over the streets for months. There are nearly 100 gangs in the capital city, and many receive benefits from the government and payments from opposition parties and private sector businesses. Crime worsened when the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) ended in October 2017. In the past two months, there have been 54 homicides in Haiti’s capital, largely linked to gang violence.
Pastor Berger’s affiliation with gang members and his recent videos came as quite a shock to many in Haiti, Niepce explained.
People were rather surprised by this collaboration with these notorious bandits. It's like he's doing it for a joke. The fact that he appeared with thugs and gang members who are wanted by the police puts himself in danger. In fact, an arrest warrant has been issued against him.
On Tuesday July 7, the national judicial police (DCPJ) commissioner Jacques Lafontant issued a warrant for pastor’s arrest. Pastor Berger is wanted for unlawful possession of a firearm and association with criminals.
On July 9, Pastor Berger published a new 10-minute long video where he reacts to the warrant issued against him.
In the video he claims that he “has been sent by God to create peace.”
“I decided to speak out because I do a good job for this country. I decided to speak out because I want peace in this country,” he said.
“This government is good for nothing. I feel that the government likes it when people destroy themselves. The government likes it when there is destruction, looting. The government likes it when there are kidnappings and rapes in the country. That's why they want to arrest me. I am ready whenever they want because I did something good, because I preach peace. And I am not a thief. Warrants should have been sent out for the thieves of PetroCaribe funds. Not me
[Editor’s note: PetroCaribe refers to the program that Venezuela used to supply oil to Haiti. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Auditors (CSCCA) in Haiti discovered that over 1,7 billion euros had disappeared during the program and allegedly to the benefit of President Jovenel Moïse.]”
Pastor previously arrested in 2018
Two years ago, Pastor Berger Moderne was the subject of controversy when a video surfaced that captured the pastor swinging a child around by his hair during a ritual. The pastor claimed that the ritual would help cure the child of an unspecified sickness.
Pastor Berger founded a congregation known as “Lamé sélès” in creole [in English, the Celestial Army]. The congregation practices a similar doctrine as the Pentecostal Church, Haitian Senator Jean-Renel Sénatus told the Observers in 2018. After this video was shared online by people at the ceremony, the police opened an investigation into Pastor Berger, who fled. He was arrested, but released a week later.
“He could be looking for glory on social media since he does have a degree of popularity on social media sites”
When the videos first came out it was difficult to discern Pastor Berger’s motives. On social media, people in Haiti were quite shocked.
One of our Observers investigated. This person requested to remain anonymous.
The prophet is working as someone promoting the good face of the gang ‘G9 an fanmi. My sources confirmed it to me.This has nothing to do with religion beliefs, but it is 100% a political process.
The motive for the videos is not religion. His behavior does not have anything to do with religion. You see the way he is posing. He is like a rapper boy.
Pastor Berger said it was a peaceful video to show that the gangs are making peace...But there are gangs that are incredibly violent. People are dismembered with machetes.
In Haiti, although many people are Christian, many also practice vodou, which is a religion that came to Haiti with slaves from West Africa during the French colonial rule.
Our Observer adds:
Generally, gangs practice vodou, and Christian values do not mix well with theirs. However, mixing religious practices is evident with the Pastor’s religion (Celestial Army). Sometimes it is difficult to say if their ritual is Christian or vodou. Therefore, it is possible that his status as a pastor facilitates his connection with the gangs that are in popular and vulnerable areas that often practice this religion (Celestial Army).
Our Observer informed us that Pastor Berger is set to appear in court today. But the pastor has promised to bring a large crowd of people, including a “rara team.” Rara is a genre of music in Haiti played with instruments that people traditionally use in vodou ceremonies.
The Rara group is to attract a crowd. Usually, when there is a demonstration in Haiti, you'll always see 'rara' in it.
The prophet is saying that he is going to the court tomorrow. But he made sure to have a lot of people with him. They always do it this way. So when there are a lot of people the judge will never keep him.
In Haiti, influential figures often rally a big crowd when they appear in court, according to our Observer. The crowd intimidates the judge, who can then dismiss the case. This intimidation technique is frequent in Haiti. With a large crowd, it is unlikely that Pastor Berger’s case will be prosecuted.
This article will be updated with developments.
Article by Sophie Stuber (@sophiestube)