The leaders of four armed gangs in Haiti, including one who is the target of a $2 million FBI bounty and forced the evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy this summer, have been hit with economic sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.
The sanctions by the Biden administration were announced Friday shortly before a United Nations sanctions committee also designated the same individuals. They will now join the only other person on the U.N. sanctions list: Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a former police officer who became a gang leader.
The four gang leaders named by Treasury and the U.N. are Vitel’homme Innocent, head of the Kraze Baryé gang and subject of a $2 million reward by the FBI for information leading to his arrest; Johnson “Izo” André, who leads the 5 Segonn/5 Segond gang and is wanted by the Haiti National Police for various crimes including assassination and has been identified by survivors as being responsible for 1,035 documented cases of sexual violence in 2022.; Renel “Ti Lapli” Destina, a key ally of André who has been indicted on charges of hostage taking by the U.S. Justice Department, and Wilson Joseph, also known as Lanmo Sanjou, who heads the 400 Mawozo gang and has also been indicted in the U.S. for his role role in the armed kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Haiti, including 16 missionaries.
“André, Destina, Innocent, and Joseph are each being designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse and for being a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to the leader’s or official’s tenure in their roles as leaders of criminal gangs in Haiti,” the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said.
With gangs controlling at least 80% of the Haitian capital, the four gang leaders are behind much of the spiraling violence, which is now spreading into the countryside, according to a new U.N. report.
The gang leaders are among 15 people, including politicians, who were recently cited in a recent report by a U.N. panel of experts tasked with unearthing the role of the country’s politicians, business sector and gangs in the ongoing violence that escalated after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise more than two years ago. The slaying created a power vacuum and left a weakened Haitian state unable to control its own territory.
Soon after Treasury made its announcement on Friday, a U.N. sanctions committee also announced its designations, which were the same individuals being hit by the Biden administration. This is not the first time gang leaders in Haiti have been designated with economic sanctions, which bans them from making financial transactions. and prevents others from doing business with them. However, critics have questioned their effectiveness given that gang members often don’t have bank accounts or property in foreign countries, much less travel visas.
“When you sanction gang leaders, there is an effect you are not going to get.... It doesn’t mean that they are going to stop doing what they are doing,” said Gédéon Jean, the founder of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights., which monitors kidnappings. “What the population is looking from from the international community are actions with a direct impact.”
With the individuals designated for U.N. sanctions being only gang members who everyone already knows, Jean said, the public “will not take the international community seriously.”
Since last fall, the U.S. and Canada have come to rely on economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool in Haiti, where elections haven’t been held since 2016. Efforts to schedule them hit another roadblock this week when a civil society coalition known as the Montana Group rejected a proposal by the 15-member Caribbean Community that would have them and others share power with Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
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