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The Hill | American guns fuel Haiti crisis Firearms from the United States fuel the crisis in Haiti

  • March 30, 2024
  • 17
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the-hill-|-american-guns-fuel-haiti-crisis-firearms-from-the-united-states-fuel-the-crisis-in-haiti

Haiti’s crisis, caused in part by the dominance of gangs that have overwhelmed the country and overwhelmed security forces, is fueled by a large illegal flow of U.S. weapons to the Caribbean nation, a long-standing problem that has not is getting worse despite the Biden administration’s efforts to address it.

The gangs plaguing the island are armed with powerful U.S.-made weapons, including .50-caliber sniper rifles and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, as well as handguns.

The Biden administration has attempted to address these issues, but with Haiti’s porous borders and little government oversight, hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons are believed to be circulating in the country.

Romain Le Cour, senior expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, said traffickers have been “literally dumping weapons into Haiti” for years, a situation he described as worsening even during the disaster in course, which limited imports.

“Frankly, it is scandalous to see a country and a city totally paralyzed by war for a month, and there is absolutely no sign of a shortage of weapons or ammunition,” Le Cour said. “The weapons continue to arrive, it’s a never-ending story. We must deal with arms trafficking in Haiti, it is extremely urgent. »

Since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, gang control has solidified, particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The situation has further deteriorated over the past year, with the United Nations warning that more than 360,000 people have been displaced from their homes so far.

The past few weeks of gang fighting have become even more volatile. The violence forced the United States to send an elite team of Marines to defend the American embassy, ​​while Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to resign and the government essentially collapsed.

It is estimated that the gangs now control around 90% of Port-au-Prince, surpassing the Haitian National Police (PNH). There are estimated to be up to 200 gangs in the country, with growing ranks fighting some 9,000 PNH agents.

A United Nations report released Thursday says more than 4,400 people died in Haiti in 2023 as a result of gang violence, while deaths exploded in the first three months of this year to more than 1,500.

The report, which describes the situation as “cataclysmic”, also details how the gangs continue to maintain a “reliable supply chain” of weapons and ammunition.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has called for “more effective implementation” of the arms embargo on Haiti.

“It is shocking that despite the terrible situation on the ground, weapons continue to flow in,” Türk said in a statement Thursday.

Robert Fatton, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and author of books on Haiti, said the gangs would never have been as powerful without the massive proliferation of U.S. weapons.

“If they didn’t have these weapons, they wouldn’t be as powerful, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “The more weapons there are out there, the more powerful they become. »

The weapons arrive in Haiti through a vast network of criminals operating overseas, many of them in Florida or other southern U.S. states.

Firearms are purchased legally in the United States, at gun stores or at shows. They are usually smuggled in shipments leaving Miami-Dade and Port Everglade in Florida, paid for with gang profits from extortion and drug trafficking.

The ships often stop in neighboring countries such as Jamaica or Panama before sending cargoes by smaller ships to the Haitian ports of Port-au-Prince or Port-de-Paix, according to a United Nations report United States of 2023. Firearms can also arrive in Haiti on small planes landing at airports.

In Haiti, gangs control key access to seaports, airports and border crossings with the Dominican Republic, another channel for arms trafficking. With the government collapsing, there is almost no one to stop the flow of weapons once they reach Haiti.

Yet Haiti relies on imports for all kinds of goods and supplies, making the country dependent on shipments that will need to continue to flow. And the problem is compounded by the fact that Haiti is notoriously corrupt, with police sometimes diverting weapons supplied to them by international countries, including the United States, into the hands of gangs.

The United Nations has noted that there could be as many as 500,000 weapons in Haiti, although the exact number is not known and could be much higher.

Alexander Causwell, an analyst at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, said the enormous amount of weapons in the country has created “pure anarchy” and an uncontrollable situation, regardless of future arms trafficking.

“The problem is that there are already a lot of weapons there. This is the current problem. That’s why they’re experiencing this sort of criminal insurgency against what’s left of the state,” he said of the gangs.

U.S. weapons have long fueled violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, including in countries such as Mexico where cartels have gained outsized power.

The Biden administration is trying to tackle the problem. Last year, it appointed a coordinator for firearms prosecutions in the Caribbean and signed a cooperation agreement with the PNH on a tracking system to better identify traffickers.

The State Department is also working with the HNP and the Homeland Security Investigations Agency at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to strengthen investigations. And in September, the United States launched Operation Hammerhead in conjunction with a Caribbean task force, seizing at least 48 pistols, 10 rifles, 10 magazines, four revolvers and 3,371 rounds of ammunition through November.

Washington has also undertaken to pursue criminal traffickers. The Justice Department announced in February that Joly Germine, nicknamed the “King” of the 400 Mawozo gang, pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle 24 high-powered weapons, including AR-15s and AKs. 47 from the United States to Haiti.

From a Haitian prison, Germine worked with his ex-girlfriend and at least one other person to purchase the weapons in the United States and smuggle them to Haiti in a shipment of domestic goods, according to prosecutors.

Although the United States is making efforts, Diego Da Rin, a Latin America and Caribbean consultant for the International Crisis Group, said Washington could do more to step up inspections at the ports where the weapons leave. destination Haiti.

“Countries should implement all necessary measures to curb illegal arms trafficking to Haiti, including inspections at their own ports on their own territory,” Da Rin said. “The United States has not taken any concrete steps in this direction. »

He also called for improved scanning tools for port inspections.

Fatton, of the University of Virginia, said the Navy or Coast Guard, the latter already patrolling around Haiti primarily to monitor migrants fleeing the country, could stop more small boats heading to the island.

“If you can stop the [trafic] at the source, that would be the key,” he said. “I think the United States can do much better, even if the Haitian authorities are unable or unwilling. »

Six Democratic senators sent a letter to President Biden in December asking what efforts he is taking to resolve the crisis in Haiti, including stopping gun trafficking.

Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, which increased penalties for straw gun purchases and made gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) joined Democratic colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation this month to require the Biden administration to account for anti-gun trafficking provisions in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

In a statement to The Hill, Castro called for increased interagency cooperation, including between the Coast Guard and Homeland Security Investigations, and for more data on U.S. weapons ending up in Haiti.

He praised Biden for approaching the issue from multiple angles, but noted there was room for improvement.

“The administration has been slow to deliver on President Biden’s campaign promise to resume oversight of arms exports from the State Department, a delay that hampers the fight against trafficking and facilitates the legal export of weapons to the Dominican Republic and other nations to end up in the hands of Haitian gangs,” Castro said. “I hope the administration will soon make good on this promise.” »

Meanwhile, in Haiti, open borders and a lack of enforcement have created a free zone for traffickers.

For Haitians, well-armed gangs have plunged their country into a spiraling humanitarian crisis, which will need to be addressed as a priority before tackling the flow of weapons.

Haiti country director Laurent Uwumuremyi of humanitarian aid group Mercy Corps said hospitals and medical facilities were becoming non-functional due to lack of staff and supplies, while supply chains were struggling to deliver humanitarian aid.

“If the security situation is not established in the near future, the situation will deteriorate very significantly,” he said.

The United States and the Caribbean Community regional alliance are working to resolve the situation but face the reality of a nearly collapsed Haitian government and heavily armed gangs.

The United Nations Security Council last year backed a Kenyan-led multinational police force to enter Haiti and end the violence.

But Kenya suspended plans to send 1,000 troops following the resignation of Henry, the prime minister, raising concerns about the ability to work with an official entity in Haiti.

The Court, along with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, said the multinational force could enter Haiti once a transitional governing council is appointed, which could happen as early as early April.

Although there are questions about the reception an international mission would receive from Haitians and whether it would be able to restore order safely and effectively, Le Cour said it “must be done” to help the PNH.

“This is going to be a challenge for the council,” he said, describing the task ahead as “titanic.” “But this is the first step towards restoring governance and order and a minimum level of rule of law in the country. »

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American guns fuel Haiti crisis | The Hill