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There's an arms race in Haiti, and it's fueled by Florida's pipeline of weapons of war

Jay Weaver and Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — While heavy gunfire was paralyzing Haiti’s capital in late February, a man using a fake name approached a 45-foot cargo container parked in a Fort Lauderdale lot. He asked if he could drop off three parcels — two boxes and a folding casino table — to ship to the besieged country.

Anestin Predestin, a self-styled broker who was parceling out space in the container for Haitians looking to ship food and merchandise, asked what was inside the taped cardboard boxes. The man, who went by the single name “Diamortino,” lied.

“Clothes,” he said.

The following month, Predestin’s container left Port Everglades and arrived in Cap-Haïtien, a coastal city north of the capital, as fighting raged in Port-au-Prince between police and armed gangs.

In Cap-Haïtien, the national police discovered that Diamortino’s boxes contained more than two dozen illegally imported handguns and assault rifles, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition — all sent from South Florida and destined for criminal gangs in northern Haiti, according to a Haitian investigator.

Predestin found out about the April 5 seizure over WhatsApp messages. He said he was shocked by the discovery, not only because it involved his shipment, but because it happened as a united front of gangs was attempting to topple the government. The gunmen launched deadly coordinated attacks on state institutions, including the capital’s airport, main seaport and prisons.

 

“Can you imagine?” Predestin, 48, said, sitting a week later in his sparsely furnished efficiency apartment in north Miami-Dade County. “There can be a bad guy in front of you and you don’t even know it.”

’The choke point’

Federal officials readily admit that Florida is the main U.S. pipeline for weapons headed to the Caribbean and South America, fueled by the state’s easy access to firearms, a lucrative black market, the lack of export inspections at South Florida ports and the rising demands of criminal organizations in countries like Haiti. Those factors have caused a steep climb in illicit shipments of increasingly powerful firearms such as automatic rifles to hundreds of gangs in Haiti, contributing to the doubling of the country’s murder rate over the past two years.

The weapons smuggling spike to Haiti began two years ago, U.S. authorities say, coinciding with the escalation of violence carried out by armed groups since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The gangs have forced thousands of people from their homes, paralyzed the economy and now has millions facing starvation. The ongoing insurgency succeeded in ousting the prime minister and shutting down the main airport and seaport for months.

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