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Dominican Republic Takes Tentative Measures against Haiti Gangs

CARIBBEAN / 19 SEP 2022 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

Officials in the Dominican Republic have made a series of moves this year to try and prevent a spillover of Haitian organized crime, yet they do not appear to be part of any coordinated strategy.

Speaking at an event of the Organization of American States (OAS) on September 15, Dominican President Luis Abinader defended the building of a controversial 164-kilometer wall along the Haitian border. Begun in February, Dominican officials claim it will reduce drug, arms, and people smuggling.

In his speech, he claimed that "organized crime" from Haiti was "trying to change order" in the Dominican Republic, without providing specifics, according to an EFE report.

This is not the only time Abinader has taken aim at Haitian organized crime of late. His most controversial move came on September 7 when he banned a range of Haitian criminal figures from entering the country. The list included Jimmy Chérizier, alias “Barbecue,” and Jean Pierre Gabriel, alias “Ti Gabriel,” respectively the leaders of Haiti's powerful G9 and G-PEP gang federations.

But it also included Claude Joseph, a former acting prime minister and president of Haiti. Joseph denounced this move as a “scandalous decision” in a Twitter statement on September 8, arguing that it highlighted Abinader's "anti-Haitian" sentiment. The Dominican list provided no details as to why Joseph was included in the ban and he is not currently under investigation for any crime in Haiti.

SEE ALSO: GameChangers 2021: Barbecue, Gangs and Political Power in Haiti

This move came at a time when Haitian organized crime has become a hot topic in the Dominican Republic. In August, Dominican presidential candidate Francisco Domínguez Brito demanded the creation of a specialized unit to prevent "an unstoppable wave of kidnappings" by Haitian gangs.

Meanwhile, in June, the Dominican military announced that keeping out Haitian criminals was now an institutional priority.

InSight Crime Analysis

Haiti's extreme gang violence has understandably raised fears in the Dominican Republic. However, the Abinader administration's attempts at pre-empting criminal migration have been, at best, ineffective.

Firstly, no Dominican politician has yet provided evidence that Haiti's gangs are indeed trying to migrate. Even at the theoretical level, it seems like a strange choice. While the two countries are neighbors, they are utterly linguistically, culturally, and criminally distinct, with the Dominican underworld being notable for its low levels of violence.

Secondly, even if some gang members wanted to re-settle in the Dominican Republic, it is unclear how -- and why -- any of the proscribed gang leaders would join them. The listed bosses are currently busy fighting in Port-au-Prince's crime wars, with most also being hunted by police. Abandoning their fiercely-defended strongholds for a hostile foreign country would be equally bizarre.

SEE ALSO: Dominican Republic-Haiti Border Fence Likely to See Same Cracks as US Wall

Thirdly, there has been no evidence linking Claude Joseph to any other organized crime group. While he was repeatedly questioned for the July 2021 murder of President Moïse, investigators mostly focused on Joseph's political opponent and Haiti's current acting President Ariel Henry.

In September 2021, the country’s chief prosecutor called for Henry’s arrest and indictment. Henry fired him the same day. Hence, while Haiti does suffer from connections between elites and organized crime, Claude Joseph's inclusion was likely political, said Dr. Djems Olivier, sociologist and Professor at Haiti's State University.

“It looks like they maybe took advantage of the opportunity to put his name among those of the gang leaders,” Olivier told InSight Crime. This is likely due to Joseph's vocal criticism of President Abinader, particularly concerning the latter’s increasingly repressive policies towards Haitian migrants.

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