Canada imposes sanctions on former Haitian leader and other officials

Canada announced sanctions against a series of powerful politicians in Haiti over the weekend, part of a broader effort to punish officials believed to have ties to growing terrorist gangs. dominant in this Caribbean nation.

Among those targeted by these measures are Michel Martelly, president from 2011 to 2016 and still influential in Haiti, as well as two former prime ministers.

The Canadian government did not detail the specific charges against the three men but said in a press release that they “use their status as current or former public officials to protect and facilitate the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs, including through money laundering and other activities. corrupt behavior.”

Gang wars in Haiti have intensified since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last year, as armed groups grew bolder in attacks on each other and on people, overwhelming the police force. poorly equipped nation in much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. .

Last month, the Haitian government issued a special call for armed intervention from abroad to help stabilize the nation. The United Nations Security Council has voted to impose sanctions on the gangs and individuals that fund them, but diplomats have not yet decided whether to send a multinational force.

As the gangs continue to fight each other and terrorize people, Canada and the United States have sought to impose harsher financial penalties to put pressure on current and former Haitian officials believed to be are supporting armed groups.

During a news conference in Tunisia on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada called the measures “very severe, very direct sanctions against elites and oligarchs, who for years, if not decades, have profited from the instability the Haitian people continue to cause. suffer.” The sanctions would cut off most financial services in Canada and freeze the assets of politicians in the country.

Canada has imposed penalties on a number of Haitian officials, including Rony Célestin, a senator whose purchase of a $3.4 million mansion in Montreal has sparked corruption allegations from politicians Haitian activities.

But Mr. Martelly, the former president who chose Mr. Moïse as his successor and wields significant influence over his administration, is the highest-ranking Haitian official to appear publicly on any sanctions list in the past. this year.

“The most important thing is that this is a former president who has had strong support from Canada and the international community,” said Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Studies in Washington. while in office.

Mr. Johnston said that Mr. Martelly splits most of his time between Miami and the Dominican Republic, and it was unclear if financial restrictions in Canada would affect him.

However, the announcement could send a signal of a broader shift in the approach of some of the most influential countries towards Haiti. On Sunday, Canada’s foreign minister urged other countries to follow suit with their own sanctions against people targeted by Mr. Trudeau’s government.

“It could be a sign that the international community is not going down the same path as it once was,” Mr. Johnston said. “The question is is it only Canada or will the others come?”

The assassination of Mr. Moïse remains unsolved, although several Haitian officials – including the commander in charge of protecting the president’s home – have been implicated.

Witnesses have alleged that the commander, Dimitri Hérard, worked with Martelly’s brother-in-law, Charles Saint-Remy, among others, to bring a shipment of more than 1,000 kilograms of heroin and cocaine into the country in 2015 , use the authority. cars and personnel.

Saint-Remy has long been suspected by the US Drug Enforcement Administration of being involved in drug trafficking.

A singer turned politician, Mr. Martelly remains a powerful but controversial figure in Haiti, where many blame his government for the misuse of $2 billion in funds. loaned to the country as part of an oil program sponsored by Venezuela.

Canada also imposed sanctions this weekend on two former prime ministers: Laurent Lamothe, who served under Mr. Martelly, and Jean-Henry Céant, who served under Mr. Moïse. Mr Lamothe was ousted from office in 2014 amid a political crisis between his administration and opposition parties. Mr Céant was sacked by Mr Moïse in 2019, six months after he was appointed to form a unity government.

The measures follow sanctions announced by the United States and Canada earlier this month targeting two Haitian senators accused of being involved in drug trafficking.

Powerless to defend themselves, the Haitian people have been terrorized by criminal groups that regularly kidnap civilians for ransom and use sexual violence as a weapon to subjugate the people, according to reports from human rights groups.

The gangs now control much of the capital and have essentially cut off entire neighborhoods’ access to the outside world as they vie for control.

Violence has crippled efforts to combat a growing cholera outbreak, with gangs making it difficult for aid workers to provide basic care in large slums where hundreds of thousands of people live.

Canada’s Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, said Sunday that the sanctioned officials “are profiting from the violence that is being weaponized by gangs in Haiti.” The goal of the measures, she said, is to ensure that those “who are part of a corrupt system are facing accountability.”


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