October 20, 2023
On October 20, the UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss the final report of the UN Expert Panel, convened last year to advise the council on its sanctions regime in Haiti.
The 156-page investigative report details a recent history of high-level government corruption and support for armed groups, painting the picture of a criminal state that not only thwarts progress but actively undermines the rule of law and human rights.
“Michel Martelly, who served as president from 2011 to 2016, used gangs to expand his influence over neighbourhoods to advance his political agenda, contributing to a legacy of insecurity, the impacts of which are still being felt today,” the Panel wrote. Martelly has already been sanctioned by Canada and spends most of his time living in South Florida. It remains to be seen how the US may react to the report.
Specifically, the report notes that Martelly “created Base 257, which over time was financed and armed to prevent anti-Government demonstrations.” Further, Martelly “has also used intermediaries to build relationships and negotiate with other gangs, including through foundations and members of his security detail.”
In addition to Martelly, the report focuses on the alleged corrupt actions of former deputy Prophane Victor, former senate president Youri Latortue, Customs Director Romel Bell, and Reynold Deeb — an influential member of the economic elite.
“The Panel has evidence that Reynold Deeb, the Chief Operating Officer at Deka Group, a leading importer of consumer goods, and sanctioned by a Member State, has been financing members of gangs to protect his business and secure the transportation of the commodities he imports,” the report states. Deeb continues to maintain “his grip on the choice of customs officials deployed across several main ports of entry.”
The report also documents the myriad armed groups active in the country, the various alliances and networks among them, and how many have turned into hugely lucrative criminal enterprises involved in arms and drug trafficking. Kidnappings for ransom, the report notes, have become a major revenue source for these groups.
The report also focuses on public corruption, noting that, “In Haiti, the constant diversion of public funds is one of the primary drivers of violence and a threat to peace, security and stability.” It includes further information on the Petrocaribe scandal, specifically discussing the implication of former president Martelly and former prime minister Laurent Lamothe.
The Expert Panel’s report is intended to inform UNSC members as they consider expanding the current sanctions regime, which includes only one individual, Jimmy Chérizier, the leader of the G9 alliance of armed groups. Further, the report documents the rampant trafficking of arms, mainly from the United States, and recommends expanding the existing UN arms embargo to include “all non-state actors.”
Though the report documents the devastating increase in violence and criminality over the last two years, it is notable that no current government officials are mentioned. Further, there is no discussion of the role the international community played in supporting the very political actors now under scrutiny.
Key Suspect in Assassination Case is Arrested
On October 19, Haitian police arrested Joseph Felix Badio, a key suspect in the assassination of Haiti’s president. Significant attention has been focused on Badio not only because of his alleged involvement in the plot but because he also was in direct communication with Haiti’s current de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry. Phone records show that Badio called Henry twice in the early morning hours of July 7, not long after the assassination.
German Rivera, the Colombian former military colonel who pleaded guilty in the US for his role in the assassination last month, has claimed that the order to kill was given by someone two weeks prior. In audio recordings leaked to the Colombian media in the weeks after the assassination, Rivera specifically names Badio as the individual who gave the order.
Local media reported that Badio was arrested at the Big Star Market in the Petionville neighborhood. “He was believed to have been under the protection of one of the country’s more powerful gang leaders, Vitelhomme Innocent, and moved around with policemen as his bodyguards,” reported the Miami Herald.
The arrest took place while Henry was out of the country attending a conference in Canada.
Haiti Force Faces Roadblocks Despite UNSC Approval
Amid mounting criticism, Kenya’s high court has put on hold the deployment of security forces to Haiti until at least October 24. Last week, Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, the largest opposition party in Kenya, released a statement opposing the president’s decision to send some 1,000 police to Haiti. “We believe that the decision to deploy Kenya’s police officers … is ill-advised, opportunistic, and undermines the spirit of panafricanism,” the party said.
On October 13, Kenya’s cabinet approved the force, pending ratification in Parliament.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki defended the plan, noting that the country has enough police officers to maintain law and order inside its borders and that the cost for the mission would not be footed by Kenya. The Kenyan government is sending a second government delegation to Haiti to conduct another assessment ahead of the deployment.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is looking at dispatching 150 agents from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as part of the security support mission to help train members of the Haitian National Police. Sergio Cuesta Francisco, the Spanish ambassador to Haiti, also reiterated Spain’s commitment to providing support, although the specifics have not been detailed. Belize has also confirmed it would send at least 50 people, including soldiers and coast guard officers, to Haiti, a decision which was criticized by opposition chief Shyne Barrow, who stated that the country should focus on resolving its internal issues prior to engaging in international missions.
Haiti Maintains Border Closure
The conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti over the Massacre River canal shows no signs of ending, with Haitian authorities requesting a public apology from the Dominican government for its unilateral closure of the border and suspension of trade relations between the two countries, along with other demands. The unilateral closure of the border has also ignited nationalist sentiments in the Haitian population, with a group of Haitian civilians, led by former senator Wanique Pierre unsuccessfully attempting to build a wall at the Haitian side of the border. Additionally, 100,000 Haitians have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic since the conflict started in mid-September. The spat has reached the Organization of American States, with the Haitian representative and Dominican foreign affairs minister exchanging verbal blows during a meeting of the OAS Permanent Council. Léon Charles, Haiti’s representative, stated that “the construction of the canal will not stop.”
Charles also criticized the Dominican government’s response to the canal, adding: “Haiti strongly condemns the use of threats, intimidation maneuvers, and disinformation that cannot substitute for the respect of international commitments.” In response to Charles’ comments, Roberto Álvarez, the Dominican chancellor, stated: “We are not intimidating anyone. Our intention is to protect our border, our natural resources.” Álvarez also qualified Charles’ statements as a “reckless position.” Haiti has maintained the closure of its own borders with its neighboring country, including the binational markets, even as the Dominican Republic reopened to allow for trade of essential commodities. Lesly Théogène, departmental director of the Northeast for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Haiti, stated that the Ouanaminthe Binational Market would remain closed until further notice, a decision which “was made at the highest level of the government.”
At a time of heightened tensions, there were also suspicions on social media that a fire that broke out at the binational market, which primarily affected Haitian traders, could have been intentional. Théogène remarked that the Haitian government was looking to change the way exchanges between the two countries have been conducted, and is also considering trading with other neighboring countries if the Dominican government refuses to agree to the new terms of engagement. While there was an opening of the border on the Haitian side over the weekend, he clarified that it was only “to allow Haitian traders to retrieve their goods and assess the damage caused by the fire that broke out at the binational market.” The fire affected 40 warehouses, of which 38 were owned by Haitians. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
Customs agents at the Haitian border have also been seizing Dominican goods deemed of “poor quality” and burning them, as various Dominican products are being prevented from entering Haiti. Members of Haiti’s business circles have also been commenting on the conflict, with the Haitian Industries Association (ADIH) issuing a press release that called for the end of Haiti’s dependence on Dominican-made goods. “Let’s seize this newfound awareness to regain our full potential for self-sufficiency,” they said. “The ADIH is convinced that the Republic of Haiti, like any other country, has the right and obligation to prioritize the use of its own resources for the benefit of its population,” read the statement.
The Haitian government has also been taking this opportunity to find new ways to boost national production and look toward other markets to diversify Haiti’s import sources, with Mexico being considered as an option. Ricardin Saint-Jean, the minister of Commerce and Industry, held a meeting with the Mexican ambassador to Haiti to discuss the strengthening of trade between both countries. “We cannot be exclusively dependent on a country that can decide to close its borders at any time to apply pressure,” he stated. The Haitian government also released its own statement on the matter, congratulating the Haitian population for “its calm, serenity and patriotism in the face of the disproportionate measures taken by the Dominican authorities.”
Furthermore, the statement notes that “the Government of the Republic of Haiti believes that an outcome will only be considered appropriate if it allows the equitable sharing of water resources, the normalization of relations between the two countries and the return to the movement of people and goods on both sides, as was the case between the two Republics before the unilateral closure on September 15.” An OAS mission is on the ground on the island to review the case of the Massacre River and mediate between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
CARICOM Looking to Restart Stalled Negotiations
The Eminent Persons Group working as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mediators in political negotiations is looking to relaunch the process, which has been at an impasse since their last visit to Port-au-Prince. According to Le Nouvelliste, a note was sent to the different parties to signal CARICOM’s intention to hold in-person meetings in Haiti from October 29 to November 6. Based on details obtained by the paper, the mediators requested each participant to submit a memorandum by October 25 detailing the terms of a consensus project that considers their substantive points and subpoints. These meetings would mark the fourth attempt by CARICOM to broker a political agreement between the various actors in Haiti.
Discussing the matter with Le Nouvelliste, Pierre Espérance, executive director for the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), criticized the methodological approach of the mediators, noting: “With each mission to Haiti, it feels like we’re going back to square one or going around in circles. We don’t agree on a discussion agenda. The envoys lack an expert with experience in conflict resolution.” His criticism was echoed by Gédéon Jean from the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, who stated: “Discussions facilitated by CARICOM mediators do not really lead anywhere. We are going around in circles.” While Jean thought the parties to the mediation were “not up to the situation,” Espérance blamed the de facto prime minister Ariel Henry’s unwillingness to make concessions as the cause of the impasse.
Canada Announces Humanitarian Pathway for Haitians, Colombians, and Venezuelans
Canadian immigration minister Marc Miller recently announced a new permanent residence humanitarian pathway for migrants from Haiti, Colombia, and Venezuela to resettle in Canada. The humanitarian program will welcome up to 11,000 people from those three countries as part of Canada’s commitment to welcome 15,000 migrants from the Americas. The applicants will need to “be located in Central or South America or the Caribbean” and have extended family connections in Canada, such as being the “child, grandchild, spouse, common-law partner, parent, grandparent or sibling of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident,” according to the statement from Miller. Although this program offers a direct pathway to permanent residency, unlike Humanitarian Parole in the United States, the number of applicants being accepted seems low. In contrast, over 50,000 Haitians alone have moved to the US on Humanitarian Parole as of June 2023.
Former Haitian Senator John Joël Joseph Pleads Guilty in US Assassination Case
On October 10, the Miami Herald reported that former senator John Joël Joseph pleaded guilty in Miami federal court for “conspiring with others in Haiti and South Florida” to kill Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s late president. Joseph admitted “he helped obtain rental vehicles, made introductions to Haitian gang members and tried to get firearms for the co-conspirators,” with the hope of becoming prime minister under Moïse’s successor. He is the third defendant to have pleaded guilty in the US case, following the guilty pleas for retired Colombian army officer Germán Alejandro Rivera Garcia and Haitian businessman Rodolphe Jaar.
Though the US case is focused on the conspiracy’s ties to south Florida, the Miami Herald has previously reported that the Department of Justice has maintained a narrow scope unlikely to expose the true masterminds of the crime.
Former President Martelly Questioned in Moïse Assassination Case in Haiti
Former Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly flew to Port-au-Prince from Miami to answer questions from investigating judge Walter Wesser Voltaire, accompanied by his lawyer Mario Delcy. Judge Voltaire has been summoning various members of the Haitian political and economic elite as part of his work on the case. Notably, de facto prime minister Ariel Henry and former first lady Martine Moïse have still not responded to the summons from the judge.
Canada Hosting CARICOM-Canada Summit in Ottawa
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau welcomed leaders from CARICOM to Ottawa from October 17 to 19. One of the key topics for the summit was to discuss the collective response to the ongoing security, political, and humanitarian crises unfolding in Haiti. Haiti’s de facto prime minister, Ariel Henry, attended the summit.