PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI- Haiti’s Customs Agency seized a vast amount of illegally imported ammunition the same day its director was replaced over suspicions of arms trafficking, making the Caribbean nation’s struggle against weapons flows even more evident.
A container ship at Port-au-Paix wharf was intercepted on July 1 by customs and police authorities carrying roughly 120,000 rounds of ammunition. Almost all of the illegal cargo, which had originated in Florida, consisted of high-powered assault rifle magazines and bullets.
Several arrest warrants have been issued for three individuals, including one who was detained and then released last year on charges of arms trafficking, according to Haitian news outlet Le Nouvelliste.
To replace the agency’s former head, Rommel Bell, the Haitian government appointed a new director and deputy director of Customs on the same day the operation took place. As of May, Bell is being investigated by Haiti’s anticorruption unit (Unité de lutte contre la corruption – ULLC).
According to both him and the customs union, the accusations against him stem from allegations of illegal arms trafficking.
A raid by the ULCC on May 20 prevented staff from accessing computers and files in the customs building. Following a departmental strike by the customs union, on May 24, this measure was reversed.
HAITI’S CRIME ANALYSIS
While gun smuggling from the United States to Haiti is nothing new, Haiti’s current customs crisis highlights several critical developments in its ongoing
As a starting point, state institutions are accused of armed gangs. Police in Haiti have been implicated in illegal arms trafficking before, and the government has reportedly provided weapons and vehicles to the “G9 and Family” gang alliance on several occasions.
Following the raid on the customs building, the Haitian NGO director told Alterpresse that state-sanctioned illegal arms regularly arrive at both public and private harbors in Port-au-Prince, with customs agents who seize them facing punishment.
“The situation has worsened under the leadership of Rommel Bell…[t]he Haitian State, through the customs offices, is the largest supplier of arms and ammunition to armed groups, particularly to the G9 federation,” he said in late May.
Additionally, the gangs of Port-au-Prince need a steady supply of bullets, which is related to the first point. The state of Florida, a major export hub for illegal arms to Latin America and the Caribbean, is currently experiencing an ammunition shortage.
Since ammunition prices have risen, Haitian crime groups cannot afford to count cartridges, especially in Croix-des-Missions and Martissant, where battles rage across the city. As a result, it has even been suggested that the June invasion of the Palace of Justice was only about securing money for munitions.