The United States and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions against two Haitian politicians, accusing Joseph Lambert and Youri Latortue of using their positions “to protect and enable the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs.”
In a statement Friday, Canada’s foreign affairs department accused Lambert and Latortue, the current and former presidents of the Haitian Senate, respectively, of supporting Haitian gangs “through money laundering and other acts of corruption.” .
The US Treasury Department also said the couple was targeted for “having engaged in or attempted to engage in activities or transactions that have materially contributed to, or pose a significant risk of materially contributing to, the international proliferation of illicit drugs.” .
“Joseph Lambert and Youri Latortue abused their official positions to traffic drugs and collaborated with criminal and gang networks to undermine the rule of law in Haiti,” Treasury official Brian E Nelson said in a statement.
“The United States and our international partners will continue to take action against those who facilitate drug trafficking, enable corruption, and seek to profit from the instability in Haiti.”
Haiti is facing a serious security and humanitarian crisis as gangs have blockaded a key gasoline terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, leading to fuel and water shortages. That, along with rising violence, has complicated the nation’s response to a cholera outbreak.
Haitian Senator Joseph Lambert is ineligible to enter the United States due to his corrupt activities and gross violation of human rights. The United States will continue to hold accountable anyone who fosters instability and undermines democracy in Haiti.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) November 4, 2022
Haiti’s interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, last month called on the international community to help establish a “specialized armed force” to restore security, a call backed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Haitian civil society groups, however, have stated their strong opposition to the prospect of a foreign force entering the country, saying such interventions have historically brought more harm than good.
But the situation on the streets of Port-au-Prince has continued to deteriorate and the international community is considering potential actions to help stabilize the country.
Both Lambert and Latortue have been accused of long histories of corruption, with a classified 2010 US diplomatic cable released via Wikileaks saying that Latortue “might well be the most blatantly corrupt of top Haitian politicians.”
On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was “credible information” that Lambert, who was also on a State Department blacklist, had been involved in an extrajudicial execution during his time in government.
“Haitian Senator Joseph Lambert is ineligible to enter the United States due to his corrupt activities and gross violation of human rights,” Blinken said in a statement. “The United States will continue to hold accountable anyone who fosters instability and undermines democracy in Haiti.”
The Washington sanctions also froze any US-based assets held by the targeted individuals and barred US citizens from dealing with them.
The Treasury said that Lambert and Latortue were involved in trafficking cocaine from Colombia to Haiti. He also said the men ordered others to engage in violence on his behalf.
Lambert and the office of Henry, Haiti’s prime minister, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Reuters news agency.
Latortue, in an interview with Haitian broadcaster Radio Television Caraibes, denied the accusations against him, saying US officials had ignored his advice on police training and strategies for dealing with gangs. “They trained the police and today they inherited what they trained,” he said. “I had said ‘This is how we have to fight in Haiti.’ Since then they were not happy.
Canada and the United States did not identify which Haitian gangs they believed were linked to the officials.
Last month, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions against one of Haiti’s top gang leaders, Jimmy Cherizier, better known as “Barbacoa.”
The council’s resolution established a mechanism to punish individuals and groups who “threaten the peace, security or stability of Haiti,” and Cherizier was the first person to be sanctioned under the scheme.
Meanwhile, sources told Reuters on Thursday that Haitian police had taken control of the fuel terminal that had been blocked by armed gangs since September.
In a voice message shared with The Associated Press news agency on Friday, Police Chief Frantz Elbe congratulated officers involved in an operation to expel members of the G9 gang federation, led by Cherizier.
It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed during the gunfire that rang through the capital on Thursday or if the gang had been cleared from the area entirely. “We won a fight, but it’s not over,” Elbe said.
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