Ottawa sanctions Haitian 'political elites' over suspected collusion with gangs

WATCH: Joly, Blinken dodge questions on whether Canada will lead Haiti mission

The federal government sanctioned two “Haitian political elites” on Friday over suspicions they are enabling gangs that have shaken the Caribbean nation.

Haiti is currently dealing with multiple crises, and has been unstable since the 2021 assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse. Quality of life began to severely decline in September, when Haitan gangs blocked a gas depot that resulted in fuel shortages in the nation.

The Haitian government has looked to Canada for help in quashing gang violence. While Ottawa considers its next steps, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada is targeting prominent Haitians, alongside the United States, with sanctions.

The individuals sanctioned Friday were Joseph Lambert, president of Haiti’s Senate, and Youri Latortue, former Senate president. The new measures impose a dealings prohibition on them, effectively freezing any assets they may hold in Canada, the government said.

“Canada has reason to believe these individuals are using their status as previous or current public office holders to protect and enable the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs, including through money laundering and other acts of corruption,” Ottawa said in a news release.

“The sanctions against these individuals are intended to stop the flow of illicit funds and weapons to weaken and disable criminal gangs. The Government of Canada will consider further sanctions against additional individuals and entities, as well as other measures to pressure those responsible for the violence and insecurity in Haiti.”

Youri Latortue and Joseph Lambert

Haitians Youri Latortue (left) and Joseph Lambert were sanctioned by the Canadian government on Friday over the unrest in the Caribbean nation.

AP file photos

With global inflation soaring this year due to several factors, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Haiti has been hit hard. Last month, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced the end to fuel subsidies, causing prices to double.

As a result, a coalition of gangs, which have a significant presence in the country, blocked the entrance to a major fuel terminal, leading to fuel shortages in what UN officials said last week was a reason why more than four million Haitians are facing acute food insecurity.

Hospitals have cut services and businesses, including banks and grocery stores, have reduced their hours as the country runs out of fuel.

Clean water is also scarce, leading to a worsening cholera outbreak that has left hundreds hospitalized and dozens dead. Haiti’s last cholera outbreak was in 2010 as a result of United Nations peacekeepers introducing the bacteria into the country’s largest river by sewage. Nearly 10,000 people died and more than 850,000 were sickened.

In recent weeks, sporadic looting and gun battles between gangs and police have become increasingly common; frequent protests have been staged in different parts of Haiti demanding Henry’s resignation.

The Haitian government has turned to Canada and the United States for help, asking both nations to lead an anti-gang strike force to improve the security situation in the country. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Ottawa and Montreal late last month, and hinted that Canada could play a key role in a military intervention. Canada and the U.S. have already sent armoured vehicles to Haiti that were purchased by the government.

A Canadian government delegation was sent to Haiti and carried out consultations with regional partners, the United Nations and other partners. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday in French that “we have to intervene in one way or another.” The exact role of further intervention is unclear, but advocates have urged the Canadian government to not send forces into Haiti.

“Since when did riots in a country justify foreign intervention?” said Jean Saint-Vil, a Haitian-Canadian activist, in a previous interview with Global News.

“We need the Canadian government foreign policy to finally do the right thing and truly stand by the people, and by that, we don’t mean Canada going in as Tarzan to go save the natives from themselves.”

Jimmy Chérizier, the leader of a powerful gang federation in Haiti, was sanctioned by the UN Security Council on Oct. 21. Chérizier and the federation he leads, known as “G9 Family and Allies,” blocked the entrance of the main fuel terminal, and said it would not budge until Henry resigns. On Thursday, Reuters reported Haitian police took control of the fuel terminal. A prior statement attributed to the Haitian government had said that fuel would be available on Monday.

Chérizier, a former police officer, was fired in December 2018 and he still faces an outstanding arrest warrant for his alleged role in a 2017 massacre.

In mid-2020, the gang alliance was accused of killing at least 145 people in Cite Soleil and raping multiple women “in efforts to claim areas held by rivals with ties to Moïse’s political opponents,” according to a Harvard report.

“Residents believe they were targeted for their political affiliations, in an effort to secure electoral support for (Moïse) and his party,” the report stated, adding that “G9 reportedly enjoys ties to both the Moïse administration and (Haiti’s National Police).”

Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network has echoed those allegations, stating that local police have helped protect Chérizier even while he supposedly committed crimes. Chérizier has repeatedly denied any involvement in the massacres.

— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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