New sanctions imposed by the US on Haitian officials involved in drug trafficking

The Biden administration says the measure is designed to “hold corrupt officials accountable” for activities that destabilize Haiti.

The Biden administration has imposed new sanctions on Haitian officials accused of being involved in drug trafficking as the United States and its allies continue to target corruption in the violence-ravaged Caribbean nation.

The US Treasury Department said on Friday that the sanctions targeted Haitian Senator Rony Celestin and former Senator Richard Lenine Herve Fourcand.

“Rony Celestin and Richard Fourcand are two more examples of corrupt Haitian politicians who abuse their power to promote drug trafficking activities across the region,” Treasury Secretary Brian E. Nelson said in a statement. pronunciation.

“The Treasury will continue to hold corrupt officials and malicious actors responsible for the illicit drug trade that destabilizes Haiti.”

Haiti has seen months of escalating violence as powerful gangs battled for control in the wake of the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

The country is also battling a deadly cholera outbreak and widespread hunger and malnutrition, while a week-long gang blockade on a major fuel terminal in the capital Port-au-Prince, which has since been lifted, has led to electricity and water shortages.

Ulrika Richardson, United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, said last month that armed gangs controlled about 60 percent of the territory in Port-au-Prince and used sexual violence to “terrorize” residents.

Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, in October asked the international community to help create a “specialized force” to restore security – a call backed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

But the effort appears to have stalled as the Biden administration has so far failed to get its allies to agree to lead such a mission, US media reported.

Haitian civil society groups have also vehemently opposed the prospect of a foreign force entering the country, saying such interventions have traditionally done more harm than good.

On Friday, the US Treasury Department accused Celestin, the current Haitian senator, of using his political position to “orchestrate” drug imports from Venezuela to Haiti, as well as drug exports to the US and the Bahamas.

It also alleged that Fourcand “is using his own plane to transport drugs across southern Haiti” while trying to place people in government positions “who would help facilitate his drug trafficking activities”.

The sanctions will freeze the assets of the targeted individuals in the US and make it illegal for US citizens to do business with them.

Fourcand and a spokesman for the Haitian Prime Minister’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters news agency. Reuters also said it could not immediately reach Celestin for comment.

In early October, a group of members of the US Congress urged the Biden administration to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against “known perpetrators and private and public sector entities responsible for financing insecurity” in Haiti.

“These sanctions should target oligarchs, political elites, corrupt politicians, US citizens and residents of the US who fund extrajudicial killings, torture and kidnappings of innocent Haitian nationals and in some cases US citizens,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.

Last month, the US and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions on two other Haitian politicians for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking: Joseph Lambert and Youri Latortue, the current and former presidents of Haiti’s Senate, respectively.

Both Lambert and Latortue rejected the allegations.

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