US bars former Haitian prime minister from entering the country

The sanction is the latest in a string of actions the US has taken to confront corruption in the Caribbean country.

A close-up of Laurent Lamothe against a dark background.
Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe served under ex-President Michel Martelly from 2012 to 2014 [File: Robert Galbraith/Reuters]

Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has been blocked from entering into the United States, as part of its ongoing crackdown on corruption in the Caribbean island nation.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the sanctions against Lamothe on Friday, citing his “involvement in significant corruption”.

“Lamothe misappropriated at least $60m from the Haitian government’s PetroCaribe infrastructure investment and social welfare fund for private gain,” Blinken alleged.

“Through this corrupt act and his direct involvement in the management of the fund, he exploited his role as a public official and contributed to the current instability in Haiti.”

The Latin American country, home to over 11.4 million people, has been besieged by gang violence and political instability, particularly in the wake of the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Prosecutors for the US justice department, as well as officials in Haiti, have been pursuing accountability in Moise’s murder. Dozens of people have been detained in connection to the assassination in Haiti, while the US has arrested and charged 11 suspects for their alleged roles in the planned “coup d’etat”.

The only member of the 11 to pleaded guilty, Haitian Chilean businessman Rodolphe Jaar, was sentenced on Friday to life in prison in Miami. The others await trial in July.

The US, however, has cast a broad net in rooting out corruption in Haiti, even beyond the assassination attempt. In April, Blinken imposed visa restrictions on the former President of the Haitian Chamber of Deputies Gary Bodeau, barring him from entering the country as well.

Bodeau and Lamothe join other prominent Haitian politicians that the US accuses of corruption. In December, the US treasury also slapped sanctions on then-Senator Rony Celestin and former Senator Richard Lenine Hervé Fourcand for international drug trafficking, accusing the latter of using his private plane to orchestrate their import.

And in November, the US and Canada coordinated sanctions against the then-President of Haiti’s Senate, Joseph Lambert, as well as former Senate President Youri Latortue. Both were accused of backing gang violence through money laundering and drug trafficking.

The Senate was Haiti’s last democratically elected institution, but its 10 remaining senators saw their terms expire in January. The last national election was held in 2016: Before his assassination, Moise had been ruling by decree, postponing any anticipated votes.

Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry was selected by Moise shortly before his death. Henry has called for new elections to be held in 2023, but he too has failed to follow through with setting a date.

The power vacuum in Haiti has led to a rise in gang violence. United Nations officials said in December that approximately 60 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was under gang control, leading to devastating consequences.

A gang-led blockade in October halted the flow of goods from the Varreux fuel terminal, bringing the capital to a near standstill. Hospitals struggled to power their generators, and with limited access to clean water, several residents contracted cholera — after more than three years with no reported cases.

A man in a straw-like hat holds above his head a picture of Laurent Lamothe with horns, red skin and blood dripping from his lips.
An anti-government protester holds aloft a photo of then-Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe painted as a demon in 2014 [File: Marie Arago/Reuters]

Lamothe, the politician sanctioned on Friday, served as minister of planning and external cooperation as well as prime minister. He stepped down in December 2014, amid anti-government protests.

A close ally of former President Michel Martelly, Lamothe had been tasked with overseeing Haiti’s recovery following a devastating 2010 earthquake. But Lamothe became a target for Martelly’s opposition, who decried the former businessman as corrupt.

An 11-member commission, appointed by Martelly to address the country’s 2014 political crisis, ultimately recommended that Lamothe step down, and he complied. He had been in office as prime minister for just over two years.

Canada has likewise sanctioned Lamothe, as well as Martelly himself, for corruption.

Source: Al Jazeera