The security issue facing the country seems to have no end, as reports and actions show that criminal activity has now reached epidemic proportions that are almost endemic in society. According to a recently released long-awaited UN report, armed gangs have turned the country into a cauldron of violence that is so interwoven into the fabric of society that the gangs have taken to running unofficial money exchange bureaus, control medical facilities and manage social foundations to channel humanitarian assistance, recruit children and even fund electoral campaigns. The report went on to say that the gang leaders who enriched themselves at the expense of their kidnapped victims’ ransom have used their spoils to live in opulence in the slums, thanks to the governance crisis that has weakened the state’s capacity to tighten their control over the territory and infrastructure. The 15-member council initially commissioned the 156-page report to document what was happening and make recommendations to the world body from which individuals or institutions implicated in various destabilizing activities can be identified for sanctioning, either to assets or travel ban.
Though it did not make any explicit recommendations, the report cited many influential Haitians, including former President Michel Martelly, Former Senate President Youri Latortue, and businessman Raymond Deeb as leaders with direct ties to the gangs, while former PM Laurent Lamothe was implicated in the alleged embezzlement of close to US$2billion in PetroCaribe funds which the Venezuelan government of Cesar Chavez gave to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake; a claim which they all denied and by which the panel said it stands by. The report cited the earthquake and subsequent crisis as the main factors that triggered the proliferation of gangs across the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The earthquake provoked a “destabilization momentum” that resulted in the geographic and social reconfiguration of the country. The departure of MINUSTAH in 2017, after an occupation of 13 years, left a void quickly filled by gangs. With the government unable to assume its fundamental responsibility by not being present in communities, some gang leaders formed social foundations to recruit new members and ingratiate themselves with their communities. According to the report, since 2010, foundations have become interlocutors for politicians in elections, including organizing demonstrations or anti-protest movements. Influential people in business or companies have increasingly supported them to protect their economic activities.
The former carnival singer turned president, Michel Martelly, is one of the most highly placed individuals featured in the report who used the gangs to extend his influence and intimidate opponents when needed. During his 2011-16 presidency, Martelly was reported to have used the gangs to develop his influence in the neighborhoods to advance his political agenda, thus contributing to a legacy of insecurity that is still felt today. Besides financing the gangs, Martelly provided them with weapons during his tenure, but according to several sources, he created one gang in particular: Base 257, which is regularly involved in murders, kidnappings, thefts, and drug trafficking. He also used intermediaries, such as foundations or guard members, to establish relationships and negotiate with other gangs. The report mentioned that Renel Destina, also known as Ti Lapli and one of the current gang leaders of Grand Ravine, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, said in a video that then-President Michel Martelly handed over a Galil automatic rifle belonging to the police to a former leader of the area, and another rifle of the same types to another gang leader. After the assassination of one of the gang leaders, Ti Lapli said he recovered the weapon.
One of the most important economic players to come onto the scene during Martelly’s presidency is Raymond Deeb, the general manager of Deka Group, a significant importer of consumer goods. Deeb is already among 28 Haitian nationals sanctioned by the Canadians, along with Martelly and PM Lamothe. Mr. Debb is credited with financing gang members to protect his business and ensure the transport of the goods he imports. In 2017, he reportedly paid a gang leader so he could carry out his activities in one of the main ports, and more recently, according to several independent sources, Mr. Deeb used gang members to put pressure on some customs officials at the port so that his containers were neither inspected nor intercepted, which allowed him to avoid paying specific import duties.
With such deep reach into the political and business elite, the nation’s socio-economic crisis becomes much more complicated and challenging to entangle. Many civil society groups and religious institutions have called on the judiciary to act and bring the people implicated in detail in the UN report to justice. The report’s detailed analysis shows the level of wickedness of such individuals to betray their country for personal gain, and the judicial system must act to bring them to justice as part of addressing the gang problem facing the nation.
Meanwhile, a Kenyan court extended an order barring the government from deploying hundreds of police officers to Haiti on a UN-backed mission to pacify the troubled Caribbean nation. The ruling came a day after the UN warned that security in Haiti, where violent gangs control large swathes, has collapsed even further, with significant crimes hitting “record highs.” Though the UN Security Council gave the green light for the deployment of the non-UN multinational mission led by Kenya, a lawsuit brought by an opposition lawmaker who argued that the deployment was unconstitutional as any law or treaty did not back it was granted an interim injunction, which has thus been extended further. The Kenyan cabinet said on October 13 that it had “ratified” the deployment and submitted the resolution to parliament for approval, but the opposition leader said the decision was in contempt of court and that he would launch a legal challenge against all cabinet members. Kenya’s involvement has been criticized at home, with many questioning the wisdom of such a risky mission. At the same time, Human Rights watchdogs also state that the Kenyan police have a history of using sometimes lethal force against civilians and pose an unacceptable risk in Haiti, where foreign troops have committed abuses in past interventions.
Finally, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, to encourage local egg production, has called for a 10-day forum to find ways to address the egg shortage that has hit the nation following the border closing by the Dominican Republic. The ministry summoned all ten department heads to meet to define mechanisms to survey small-scale egg producers and help encourage them to produce to meet the demand perturbed by the shocks arising from the unilateral closure of the border by the Dominican Republic.