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Is organized crime tied to Haiti president’s assassination?

A convicted cocaine trafficker is among the suspects that authorities in Haiti are pursuing in connection to the middle-of-the-night murder of former President Jovenel Moïse, raising questions about whether organized crime had any role in the high-profile assault.


Parker Asmann

InSight Crime


Rodolphe Jaar, a former drug smuggler and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant, is wanted by the national police for murder, attempted murder and armed robbery alongside former Haitian government official Joseph Félix Badio and well-known opposition politician John Joël Joseph, Le Nouvelliste reported.

According to local media reports, National Police Chief Léon Charles also announced the arrest of former rebel group leader Gilbert Dragon and businessman and US resident Christian Emmanuel Sanon for their suspected involvement in Moïse’s assassination. Authorities are still looking for several other fugitives presumed to be connected to the crime, including a Venezuelan businessman who owns a security company allegedly linked to the murder.

This comes just one week after an armed commando of foreign mercenaries allegedly shot the president 12 times at his home in Port-au-Prince early July 7, killing him and wounding First Lady Martine Moïse. At least 26 former Colombian soldiers and two other Haitian-Americans are suspected of participating in the attack.

However, some of the Colombian soldiers – 21 of whom have been killed or arrested – told The New York Times that they had been recruited to “fight gangs, improve security, protect dignitaries and democracy and help rebuild a long-suffering country,” not kill the sitting president. Authorities in Haiti are also looking into members of the former president’s security team, none of whom were injured in the killing.

  In Jaar’s case, the Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Agency (Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas – DNCD) arrested him in mid-2013 in the capital city of Santo Domingo, where he had reportedly been living in a luxury hotel. US prosecutors indicted Jaar, who also used the alias “Whiskey,” earlier that year on charges he conspired to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Court records show that Jaar later pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. At his sentencing hearing in 2015, his lawyer called the case against him “slightly unusual” because he was “cooperating with the DEA at the time of the offense, making them aware of a drug shipment that was coming into Haiti, a 425-kilogram load of narcotics. And he was in contact with agents that were on the ground.”

In other court filings related to his plea agreement, Jaar admitted to helping smuggle cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela, through Haiti and on to the United States between early 2010 and April 2013. Jaar “was present at negotiations concerning the shipment of the cocaine from Colombia and/or Venezuela to Haiti and assisted in these negotiations. [He] was in charge of arranging security so that the cocaine load could land in Haiti at a clandestine airstrip,” according to court documents.

InSight Crime Analysis

There is still little clarity on who actually fired the shots that killed the former president and why. But dividing the political from the criminal is extremely murky in Haiti. Armed gangs have long brokered mutually beneficial deals with politicians, who secure political support in exchange for turning a blind eye to criminal activity.

And while the systematic sacking of state resources through government corruption has often acted as one of Haiti’s main criminal economies, the country has also been exploited by international drug smugglers. It has for years acted as a key stopover point for South American cocaine shipments, despite not grabbing as much attention as its neighbors in the Dominican Republic.

Arguably one of the most prominent cocaine traffickers to emerge from Haiti in recent years was Beaudouin “Jacques” Ketant. He was eventually convicted in the United States for operating a smuggling ring that bribed local police and other government officials to move hundreds of tons of cocaine from Colombia’s Medellín and Norte del Valle cartels through Haiti and into the United States.

Ketant claimed to have paid millions in bribes to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “He turned the country into a narco-state,” Ketant infamously charged in a Miami courtroom in 2004. Aristide denied those claims and was never charged but was ousted and forced into exile after a second US-backed coup d’état in 2004. He returned to Haiti in 2011 and is now battling COVID-19 in Cuba. In 2015, Ketant was released from prison and deported back home.

Another well-known former rebel, policeman and political leader turned drug trafficker in Haiti was Guy Philippe. US authorities indicted him in 2005 for participating in a cocaine trafficking ring that stretched between 1997 and 2001. He was handed a nine-year prison sentence in 2017 for conspiring to launder drug money and “knowingly using his position as a high-ranking Haitian National Police Officer to provide protection for the shipments of drugs and drug proceeds arriving into Haiti in exchange for cash payments.”

Haiti has also attracted the likes of international drug traffickers from Central and South America. Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, was arrested in Haiti in 2015 as part of a joint anti-drug sting run by Haitian police and the DEA. He had traveled there to receive payment for a cocaine deal arranged with undercover informants and was later convicted of drug charges and sentenced to 24 years in US prison.

Decades before those cases came to light, the infamous Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar had already made a habit of exploiting Haiti for his own benefit. He bribed government officials like soldier Joseph-Michel François and even built a clandestine airstrip outside the capital to secure his drug shipments. In 1987 alone, US prosecutors allege François helped ferry seven tons of Escobar’s cocaine through Haiti and into the United States.

Despite being the first nation to be founded after a successful slave revolt, organized crime groups – especially drug traffickers – have capitalized on Haiti’s ongoing instability, brought on in large part by decades of failed foreign intervention and exacerbated further by the 2010 earthquake.

(Article published in InSight Crime)Creative Commons License

(Photos: Pixabay)

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