Canada sanctions an ex-Haiti president, two prime ministers

Former Haitian President Michel Martelly and two former prime ministers are joining a list of Haitian politicians sanctioned by the Canadian government due to their alleged ties to armed gangs, and Haiti’s escalating violence.

In addition to Martelly, former prime ministers Laurent Lamothe and Jean-Henry Céant have also been added. All are “suspected of protecting and enabling the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs in Haiti, including through money laundering and other acts of corruption,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

“We will continue to pressure those responsible for the violence and insecurity in Haiti, and to uphold human rights, democracy and international peace,” the statement said.

The names of the politicians sanctioned were first confirmed by Louis Blouin, Radio-Canada correspondent who is traveling with Trudeau and said that the three politicians are banned from transactions in Canada, and any assets they have there will be frozen.

The Miami Herald also confirmed the names with other sources with knowledge of the decision. Trudeau first announced sanctions early Sunday morning while attending a Francophonie conference in Djerba, Tunisia but he did not provide any names. Haiti’s ambassador to Canada, Sébastien Carrière, later confirmed the names on Twitter.

Trudeau’s office said the new sanctions are in response “to the shameful behavior of Haitian political elites who provide illicit financial and operational support to armed gangs.”

In addition to the sanctions, Trudeau also announced $8 million Canadian dollars (nearly $6 million US) in humanitarian aid for Haiti to help address the ongoing cholera outbreak, food crisis and displacement of nearly 100,000 Haitians due to ongoing gang violence. He also announced $5 million Canadian (about $3.7 million US) over three years to help Haitians fight against corruption and adjudicate cases, and $3.5 million Canadian (about $2.6 million US) in legal aid access.

The sanctions follow a unanimous decision by the UN Security Council last month to punish the leaders of criminal gangs in Haiti and those who help finance and arm them. Soon after, Canada enacted Haiti sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act and the United Nations Act in response to activities of criminal gangs. The measures came into force earlier this month.

“It’s a really good step especially if it looks like any kind of intervention is going to be slow to come, if it comes at all,” said William O’Neill, a Haiti security expert and international human rights lawyer who was involved in the rebuilding of the country’s police force.

O’Neill said he was happy to see the development and hopes that Canada and the United States continue to follow through because “there’s probably someone in every political party in Haiti who can be sanctioned.”

“I hope this shows a new approach and I hope that the US follows very fast,” he said. “I also hope that it goes further with other folks and is followed up by the European Union and anyone else where they might be hiding assets.”

READ MORE: Days before the US and Canada sanctioned two Haitian politicians, one issued a challenge

The inclusion of Martelly, Lamothe and Céant brings the Canadian government’s list to eight individuals including the current and former presidents of the Haitian Senate.

Sen. Joseph Lambert and former Sen. Youri Latortue, were jointly sanctioned by Canada and the United States earlier this month. On Saturday, Canada also announced sanctions for three other current and former parliamentarians: Hervé Fourcand, Gary Bodeau and Rony Célestin. The US was not part of Saturday or Sunday’s sanction announcements by Canada.

However, the Biden administration, which would like Canada to help lead an effort to send a multinational military force to Haiti, has warned that it, too, plans to hold Haiti’s criminal gangs and their patrons accountable through sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council. A US official said that the administration is in ongoing discussions over additional Haitians to hold accountable for fueling violence in the country.

“We welcome this action by the Government of Canada,” a National Security Council official said. “We do not comment on possible or future sanctions actions, but as we have previously said, the United States and our international partners will continue to take action against malignant actors that continue to fund and foment violence in Haiti. At the same time, conversations are ongoing with partners about establishing the non-UN mission.”

In addition to issuing its sanctions through the Department of the Treasury, the US has been quietly revoking the US visas of a number of Haitians including two ministers in interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government. The ministers of justice and interior were both recently replaced by Henry after their visa problems became public.

The ability of individual countries to enact sanctions against Haitians or even their own nationals depends on their domestic laws and their flexibility. For example, in the case of France or Spain, the governments will need the European Union to incorporate the Security Council’s sanctions regime into law. In the meantime, the countries’ embassies have joined others in scrutinizing Haitians whom they believe are involved in corruption, drug trafficking and other illicit activities contributing to the country’s destabilization.

Concerns about the nexus between Haiti’s terrorizing armed groups and connected politicians and businessmen have long worried foreign diplomats. But until recently, the US, Canada and other foreign governments have been reluctant to freeze bank accounts, property and other assets of Haitians, relying instead on visa cancellations.

All that changed, however, in September when popular anti-government protests over fuel price hikes turned violent in many parts of the country and powerful gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, and his G-9 alliance took control of the Varreux terminal. , blocking the flow of fuel, food and drinking water for two months. It marked the second time in a year that the gang had ground activities to a halt, deepening an already worrying humanitarian crisis.

This time, however, their actions occurred during a deadly resurgence in cholera and on the heels of several gang orchestrated massacres, which had exasperated foreign governments who were increasingly under pressure to act.

Acknowledging that its police force needed help, Haiti’s interim government asked for the rapid deployment of an armed international force to help. The measure was backed by the UN Secretary General and the United States and Mexico, which has penned a resolution in the security council. However, as violence and kidnappings continue to worsen with gangs seizing control of entire neighborhoods, the resolution appears to be stalled.

The surge in gang violence and criminality in Haiti have coincided with the gradual withdrawal of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, and the deepening of instability in the country where critics have accused governments of using gangs as tools of repression.

How effective the sanctions will be in calming the situation in Haiti, where powerful politicians and members of the business community have been accused of turning to gangs to achieve and maintain power remains to be seen. Most of the people sanctioned so far have assets in the United States or the Dominican Republic, which outside of banning former Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph and 12 gang leaders from entering the country, has been mum on sanctions.

Attempts to reach Martelly and Lamothe have been unsuccessful. But several of those sanctioned in recent weeks have accused the US and Canada of unfairly targeting them and trying to block them from running for future office, or having a say in the country’s future.

In a tweet, Céant said he was “unpleasantly surprised” to learn that he had been sanctioned by Canada. He was currently in India attending a peace conference, he said, and has summoned lawyers in Haiti and Canada to work on his file.

“Yet another assassination attempt on my character!” Céant said.

A singer who goes by the stage name “Sweet Micky,” Martelly was elected in 2011 after a controversial presidential election. He has not held public office since 2016 when he left office without an elected successor due to delayed elections. Still, he remains one of the country’s more controversial presidents and continues to have an omnipresence in the country’s politics, from his choice of late president Jovenel Moïse as his predecessor to his PHTK party’s appointment of ministers through, and close relations with those in charge.

He currently splits his time between Miami and Haiti, where he was spotted Saturday after returning back to the country.

Lamothe is also a Miami resident. He served under Martelly and was the last prime minister in 2014 when he resigned in a televised address in the middle of the night. The forced resignation came under US pressure amid a political crisis over long overdue legislative and municipal elections, and accusations of corruption.

Upon his departure, Lamothe said he was proud of his “remarkable work” as head of the government. In recent years, he became an unofficial adviser to Moïse, maintaining a quiet behind the scene fixture, like Martelly, on Haiti’s volatile political landscape.

A notary and former presidential candidate in 2016, Céant was Moïse’s second of seven prime ministers and the last one to win parliamentary approval. He assumed office after deadly 2018 riots over fuel price hikes but was booted out six months later after parliament fired him. He was later accused of supporting an alleged Feb. 7, 2021 coup against Moïse, and fled to the Dominican Republic where he has been living since.

During Céant’s short but memorable tenure, riots engulfed the country over government corruption and Haiti saw the introduction of a rogue group of Haitian police officers known as Fantom 509. The renegade cops’ launch of a deadly terror campaign in the streets of the capital often raised Concerns in international circles about the group’s nexus with the government.

In its sanction announcements to date, the Canadian government has not provided specific details about the politicians alleged involvement with criminal gangs or their activities. Instead, it has said that Canada has “reason to believe that these individuals are using their status as former 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.”

The measures, Ottawa has said, is aimed at stopping the flow of illicit capital and arms into Haiti, as well as to weaken and disable Haiti’s criminal gangs.

This story was originally published November 20, 2022 9:51 AM.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.


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