A string of US citizens and residents accused of smuggling weapons into Haiti underscores how guns purchased in the United States are a source of illegal weapons in a country wracked by spiraling gang violence.
On November 19, three American nationals of Haitian origin were arrested on suspicion of arms trafficking at the international airport of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Authorities discovered five firearms, including an AR15 semi-automatic rifle and four 9mm handguns, as well as ammunition, concealed in their luggage.
Days earlier, on November 16, seven firearms, including four assault rifles and three handguns, were seized from a cargo container at Port-de-Paix, a city in northwestern Haiti. The ship carrying the guns was registered in Tanzania but had stopped off in Miami before traveling to Haiti.
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On November 13, another US citizen was arrested at Port-au-Prince airport, for entering the country with six guns stowed in his check-in luggage, including two fully-automatic Uzis. Authorities said the man traveled from North Carolina to Haiti with a connecting flight in Miami. While the man appears to have followed US gun protocol, he was arrested by Haitian authorities, as firearms are prohibited without a special permit, with the exception of sporting guns.
And on October 31, a US citizen and two Haitian nationals who live in Florids were indicted in a US federal district court in Washington DC on charges of smuggling weapons into Haiti for the 400 Mawozo gang, which operates in the Croix-des-Bouquets area to the east of Port-au-Prince. The 400 Mawozo was responsible for the high-profile kidnapping of 17 missionaries in October.
Guns have also flowed from Jamaica to Haiti, in exchange for drugs, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
InSight Crime Analysis
These cases may seem small in isolation but, when seen together, they show how lax gun control laws in the US facilitate the flow of arms into Haiti.
A United Nations report estimated in 2020 that over 270,000 illicit firearms are circulating in Haiti, while the National Commission for Disarmament, Dismantling and Reintegration (Commission Nationale de Désarmement, de Démantèlement et de Réinsertion - CNDDR) in Haiti estimated that number to be as high as 500,000.
Due to its lenient gun purchasing laws and its proximity to the Caribbean, the state of Florida is a top supplier. Case in point, in 2019, a Florida gun shop owner was accused of conspiring with Haitian government officials, including a senator, to smuggle 166 semi-automatic firearms into the Caribbean country.
Meanwhile, straw purchasers and falsified Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) paperwork can also be used to smuggle weapons and ammunition out of the country. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), an alleged member of the 400 Mawozo gang in Florida currently facing charges did just that.
In another recent example, in early 2021, a former US Marine was convicted of smuggling guns into Haiti in his luggage as part of a foiled plot to train members of the Haitian Army and become the country’s president. He too used fake papers to pass himself off as a colonel.
The proliferation and expansion of gangs in Haiti is likely increasing the internal demand for weapons. These groups’ demand for weapons was seen in a June gang raid of six police stations in Port-au-Prince in which gang members allegedly sought to steal police weapons.
Guns are also being bought with ransoms obtained from frequent kidnappings in Haiti. For this very reason, authorities negotiating the release of the missionaries, kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang in October, have been reluctant to pay the $17 million ransom demanded by the gang.
The “money is going to be used for more guns and more ammunitions,” said Haiti’s new justice minister Liszt Quitel.