Another former Haitian president has been sanctioned by Canada as the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced Thursday that his government will deploy Royal Canadian Navy vessels to conduct surveillance, gather intelligence and maintain a maritime presence off the Haitian coast in the coming weeks to help the country’s struggling police force fight heavily armed gangs.
Jocelerme Privert, a former senator and interior minister who led the country’s most recent transition as president, was added to the names of members of Haiti’s “economic and political elite” accused of using their influence and resources to help armed Haitian gangs and fuel instability.
Canada also said the country will sanction Salim Succar, the chief of staff for former prime minister Laurent Lamothe, who had himself already been sanctioned by the Ottawa government. Lamothe has vehemently denied the allegations and taken the government of Canada to court. He was sanctioned along with former Haitian president Michel Martelly and prime minister Jean-Henry Céant in November.
Trudeau did not say what evidence his government had against either Succar or Privert. Privert became interim president in 2016 and oversaw the elections that brought the late President Jovenel Moïse to power, and had been considered a prospective candidate in a future Haitian presidential race. Privert did not respond to a Miami Herald request for comment.
“Canada has long recognized that much of the instability in Haiti comes from a small number of powerful lead families who are fomenting instability and financing violence for their own gains at terrible costs to the Haitian people,” Trudeau said at an afternoon press conference in Nassau, Bahamas, where he was ending a visit to the 44th regular meeting of leaders of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM. “That is why from the very beginning we have stepped up on sanctions.
“Until the Haitian elites and leadership are held to account for their role in this horrific crisis in Haiti, we will not be able to deal with it,” he added. “We have to get to the root causes.”
Trudeau first announced the sanctions earlier in the day as he addressed the gathering of Caribbean leaders. He noted that to date his government has issued “robust” targeted sanctions against 17 individuals who are accused of helping gangs in Haiti.
On Thursday, the Biden administration, which previously issued financial sanctions against four members of the Haitian Senate, also announced on Thursday that it was imposing visa restrictions against five individuals and seven family members. Unlike with sanctions, the United States doesn’t make public the names of people subject to State Department visa bans.
“This action sends a clear message of our continued commitment to root out corruption and impact the behavior of bad actors whose influence underpins the lawlessness in Haiti,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Our actions today demonstrate that there are consequences for those instigating violence and unrest in the country.”
Blinken said the U.S. has now issued visa restrictions against 44 Haitian nationals since October. The latest restrictions, he said, affect Haitian officials and other individuals involved in the operation of street gangs and criminal organizations that have threatened the livelihoods of the Haitian people and is related to recent deaths of 14 Haitian national police officers who were killed in January.
Eleven of the officers were killed in two separate gang attacks five days apart. One incident occurred in the Petionville area of the capital, the other in Liancourt in the Artibonite Valley. In the latter, seven officers died after a police station was attacked three times in one day. As a result police rioted during a visit by Biden’s assistant secretary of state, Todd Robinson, in charge of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and the Artibonite has remained without an active police presence after officers went on strike, saying they will not work until they receive equipment and protective gear.
“The United States remains deeply concerned by the ongoing lawlessness associated with armed gangs,” Blinken said. “We condemn in the strongest terms the violent gang activity that led to the death of 14 members of the Haitian National Police in January.”
Trudeau announced that in the coming days his country will also deliver additional armored vehicles to Haiti, which the government purchased. He stressed that his country continues to “reinforce the capacities of the Haitian police to overpower armed gangs and hold those who support them accountable,” but stopped short of offering to do what the United States and the Haitian government have been asking of him: lead international troops into Haiti.
“We need to work on long-lasting solutions that will restore order and security and allow for essential aid to flow to those who urgently need it and create the conditions for free and fair elections so that the Haitian people can live in a stable and democratic society,” Trudeau said.
At a press conference later in the day, Trudeau noted that “over the past 30 years, Canada has sent many, many missions to Haiti. U.N. missions, humanitarian missions, missions to build hospitals, missions to support police, missions to support prison guards, we’ve continued to step up and be there for the Haitian people and we have made commitments that we will continue to do that.
“However, we also must learn from what has worked and what has not worked in the past. And that’s why our focus now is on ensuring that through strengthening the Haitian national police, equipping them better, ensuring the best for them in their ability to do their jobs, at the same time as we look to degrade politically and economically the impact of the gangs, we have our best chance to ensure that Haitians themselves are able to solve for and end this terrible cycle of violence. What’s happening in Haiti is absolutely heartbreaking.”
Trudeau and his delegation were among several foreign dignitaries who attended the gathering alongside a 27-member delegation from the Biden administration. He also announced 10 million Canadian dollars in aid to the United Nations’ International Office of Migration to beef up protections for Haitian women and children along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. Ottawa will also invest an additional 12.3 million Canadian dollars in humanitarian assistance.
“Together with CARICOM, Canada and international partners can help Haitians bring an end to the crisis and build a better, more hopeful future for their country,” he said in both English and French. “However, we know that criminal elements are becoming more sophisticated across the region and more support is needed to stop the flow of illicit drugs, arms and human trafficking.”
Trudeau added that Canada will also provide an additional $1.8 million to target illicit drug trafficking and strengthened border and maritime security in the Caribbean.
Trudeau’s offer of help to Haiti comes about a week after the Canadian Air Force deployed a military aircraft over Haitian airspace to collect intelligence for the Haiti National Police.
Canada has been asked by the Biden administration to lead a multinational force into Haiti, which is undergoing an unprecedented security crisis with armed gangs tightening their grip on Port-au-Prince and expanding beyond the capital into rural communities.
“Canada is very concerned about the ongoing unrest and instability in Haiti,” Trudeau said. “Right now, Haiti is confronted with unrelenting gang violence, political turmoil and corruption. Armed groups are committing murder, rape and other gender-based violence; kidnapping innocent people and recruiting children to terrorize and subjugate people.”
Noting that Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry was at the conference, Trudeau added that “now is the moment to come together to confront the severity of this situation.”
Trudeau said he had “an excellent and constructive conversation” with Henry earlier in the day to discuss the Haitian crisis. He noted that Canada has provided “direct support to bolster the Haitian national police so that Haiti has the tools” to solve its security challenges.
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