If the U.S. wants to help Haiti, stop illicit gun trafficking from Florida
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(23 May 2023) — The situation in Haiti is perilously close to that of a failed state with very little hope of redemption. But there is still a path to stabilizing the country, bringing relief to the people of Haiti, ensuring human security for all the people of Haiti, and setting the country on a path to sustainable development.
There has been and will be a lot of talk about helping Haiti and who to lead. I too am guilty of some of this because I desperately want to see a change in the lives of the Haitian people. I am frustrated by the lack of meaningful action with the inclusion of the Haitian people at the center of the solutions. I have no interest in the pursuit of geopolitical or national security policies which serve any individual country. The interests of Haiti as a nation and the safety and well-being of the Haitian people must be paramount in the actions of all nations of good will. Whether that be Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean region, the countries of Latin America, or Canada, and the United States, or whether it is the focus of the Organization of American States or the United Nations, the objective must be the same. We must put Haiti and the beleaguered people of Haiti first.
CARICOM and the future of Haiti
I agree that CARICOM and the leadership that Jamaica traditionally brought to that organization should strike out hard for international support for Haiti. I have no serious issue with UN Secretary General António Guterres, during his recent visit to Jamaica, attempting to prod Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness to step up the pace on help for Haiti by landing a few flattering commendations on the prime minister for work which I do not believe he has already done on Haiti’s behalf, but work yet to be done.
But what should CARICOM’s role be? There seems to be confusion and uncertainty as the region’s leaders flitter back and forth, between warm and cold, sometimes loud, and sometimes muted, without a laser focus on a consensus on what they can do and how to do it.
I have been consistent on this issue on the importance of the role of CARICOM in helping Haiti. I have pointed to the fact that CARICOM countries do not have the resources to stop the violence in Haiti. That is a reality. But CARICOM leaders have the power of articulation and advocacy to move the United States, Canada and others, and the international community to meaningfully engaging on what is necessary to wrest control of Haiti from the gangs and transnational criminal organizations that have taken over large swathes the country. There are several steps that need to be taken. Steps which Caribbean leaders can pursue. Their voices must be clear, consistent, and reflect their commitment, and must be heard at every forum and every opportunity.
Illicit gun trafficking from the US
Many Caribbean countries are under significant pressure from the effects of crime and lack of security of these nation states. But the issues of crime and security they face pale in comparison to the situation in Haiti. There is one common denominator that exacerbates and makes the problem intractable across the region. All are impacted by the flow of illicit guns flowing from the United States, primarily from the state of Florida to the region. Haiti is severely impacted by the illicit flow of U.S. guns into the country and only the U.S. government has the capacity to stop this illegal export. The question is whether the U.S. government has, and is prepared to exercise the political will to end the carnage of gang rule in Haiti. Caribbean governments must keep demanding that the Biden administration make this a priority for its relations with the countries in the region. They must make it clear to the Biden administration that the U.S. cannot speak of helping or wanting to help Haiti without taking effective measures against the illicit gun trade to the country.
A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Haiti’s criminal markets: MAPPING TRENDS IN FIREARMS AND DRUG TRAFFICKING” concluded, some of what were generally known but not comprehensively studied, that “Increasingly sophisticated and high-calibre firearms and ammunition are being trafficked into Haiti amid an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation.”
But what is most important in the UNODC findings is that “Most weapons are sourced in the US and make their way to gang members and private residents through intermediaries, often through public and private ports and porous checkpoints.” [UNODC Report] Also, that US law enforcement is very much aware of the sources and pathways of the trafficking in illicit firearms and ammunition to Haiti. And, that the problem is getting worse as “US law enforcement and intelligence authorities detected a sharp uptick in the quantity and calibre of firearms and ammunition destined for Haiti in 2022.” [UNODC Report]
US and the Florida hub for illegal guns to Haiti
According to the UNODC report, “The principal source of firearms and munitions in Haiti is in the US, and in particular Florida.” Also, that “Higher-powered rifles such as AK47s, AR15s and Galils are typically in higher demand from gangs, commanding correspondingly higher prices. A network of criminal actors, including members of the Haitian diaspora, often source firearms from across the US.” [UNODC Report]
Furthermore, the UNODC report found that weapons are frequently procured through straw man purchases in “US states with looser gun laws and fewer purchasing restrictions. Once acquired, firearms and ammunition are then transported to Florida where they are concealed and shipped to Haiti. Consignments may be assembled and delivered in containers directly from ports in South Florida, with items hidden inside consumer products, electronic equipment, garment linings, frozen food items or even the hulls of freighters..” [UNODC Report]
US government has moral responsibility to end gun trade
First and foremost, the United States government has the primary responsibility, the resources, and power to stop this flow of illegal guns to Haiti. Stopping the flow of illegal guns to the gangs and criminal networks in Haiti must be complemented by insertion of an international coalition of a robust police force backed by protective military support personnel. This must include the concurrent training and appropriately equipping the Haitian National Police so they can stand up to and defeat the criminals. Haitian police and law enforcement must be capacitated to prevent the gangs and transnational criminal networks from ever taking root in a future Haiti. Inadequate pay has often been cited as reasons for corruption in the police force. Thus, the international community must provide funding support for a decent livable wage for law enforcement personnel in Haiti, and such assistance must be sustained over the long-term until a new Haitian government has the resources necessary to sustain a first-class corruption free police force.
A return of peace and security to Haiti and its people should trigger several other remedial reform efforts that will enhance stability, democracy, rule of law, the protection of human rights, and all of the elements of human security. My list of priorities is by no means exhaustive. But at a minimum, should include: weeding out corrupt officials from all levels government, in law enforcement, and in the judiciary; creation of a justice system free from political interference and corruption and that which provides equal access to justice for all, dispensing justice without fear or favor; creating in law and operation a criminal justice system which holds corrupt officials accountable, and which puts an end to impunity; building sustainable democratic institutions that can ensure free and fair elections and good governance; creating a society in which diversity, equity and inclusion are the norms and not the exception; and creating a society in which democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and assembly, and protection of human rights are guaranteed.
Nothing I have included on this list of imperatives are possible in the short term and will require sustainable commitment by CARICOM, Canada, the United States, and the international community. The UNODC agrees with much of what I have been saying, and noted, “International, regional and national responses have underscored the importance of increasing support to law enforcement and border management. Comprehensive approaches encompassing investments in community policing, criminal justice reform and anti-corruption measures are crucial to delivering sustainable peace and stability in Haiti.” [UNODC Report]
What is most important is that we already know what the best practices are. Of equal or greater importance is inclusion of the Haitian people in the solutions for Haiti. The job of fixing what’s wrong with Haiti must begin now. There is no time to waste.
© Curtis A. Ward