Canada has imposed new sanctions against two “Haitian elites” accused of enabling criminal gangs, the latest measure in an international campaign to stem a surge of deadly violence in the Caribbean nation.
Canada’s foreign affairs ministry said on Friday that it was sanctioning former member of parliament Arnel Belizaire and businessman Charles Saint-Remy, an associate of former Haitian President Michel Martelly.
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“Canada has reason to believe these individuals are using their status as high-profile elites in Haiti to protect and enable the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs, including through drug trafficking and other acts of corruption,” the department said in a statement.
Canada and its allies, most notably the United States, have issued a barrage of sanctions against Haitian politicians, former officials and others in recent weeks in an effort to crack down on criminal gangs and illicit activities.
Martelly, the former president, was among six Haitian officials sanctioned by Canada in November on accusations that they “participated in gross and systematic human rights violations in Haiti and engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti”.
In recent months, Haitians have faced a surge in gang attacks and kidnappings as insecurity skyrocketed in the aftermath of the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
The country also experienced petrol and electricity shortages linked to a gang blockade on a critical fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince late last year.
Meanwhile, months of political deadlock deepened this week as the last elected officials in Haiti saw their Senate terms expire. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2017, with future elections yet to be scheduled.
In November, Ulrika Richardson, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, warned that armed groups were “terrorising” residents of Port-au-Prince, with nearly 200 murders and more than 100 kidnappings reported during the previous month.
Haitian gang members also have used sexual violence, including rape, “to instill fear” in communities, Richardson said at that time.
Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry in October appealed to the international community to help set up a “specialised armed force” to restore security – a call that was backed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US President Joe Biden’s administration.
But Washington-led efforts to mount “a non-UN mission led by a partner country” to Haiti have stalled since then, as the Biden administration so far has failed to get another nation to agree to lead such a force.
Haitian civil society groups also have raised staunch opposition to the prospect of foreign intervention, saying such missions have historically brought more harm than good. Some activists have instead urged more resources be sent to the Haitian National Police.
Earlier this week, Canada announced that it had delivered armoured vehicles already bought by Haiti to the head of the national police force in Port-au-Prince to help in the battle against the gangs.
“We have been clear that Canada was not going to stand by idly as the gangs and their supporters continue to terrorize vulnerable populations in Haiti with impunity,” Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We will also continue to increase its pressure by imposing corruption sanctions against Haitian elites. Canada call on the international community to follow our lead and help [the] Haitian people as they face complex challenges and violence in their country.”
Canada is sanctioning two Haitian Elites. These individuals are using their status as high-profile elites in Haiti to protect and enable the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs, including through drug trafficking and other acts of corruption. pic.twitter.com/jzQ6h4Rb05
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) January 13, 2023