The federal government has announced sanctions against two high-ranking Haitian politicians as the country grapples with multiple crises, including widespread civil unrest, food and fuel shortages and a resurgence of cholera.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada would sanction the President of Haiti’s Senate Joseph Lambert and former senate president Youri Latortue.
“Canada has reason to believe these individuals are using their status as previous or current public office holders to protect and enable the illegal activities of armed criminal gangs, including through money laundering and other acts of corruption,” a statement from Global Affairs Canada said.
The sanctions will freeze any asset holdings the two have in Canada, the statement said.
Canada already has backed a UN-led effort to sanction Haitian gang leaders — including former police officer Jimmy Chérizier, also known as “Barbecue,” one of Haiti’s most infamous gang leaders.
Armed gangs have been blockading Haiti’s main port since September following a move by Ariel Henry, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, to cut fuel subsidies. Gang violence has killed hundreds of civilians.
The country has been effectively leaderless for more than 15 months after the last president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated.
After overpowering an understaffed and under-resourced police department, the gangs have gone so far as to request seats in the governing cabinet, demanding that Henry’s government grant amnesty and void arrest warrants against their members.
“Canada will not remain idle while gangs and those who support them terrorize Haiti’s citizens,” Joly said in Friday’s statement.
Haiti’s current leaders have called for foreign support to restore a semblance of stability to the chaotic country, and Henry has said he wants a “specialized armed force” to assist Haitian police in countering anti-government gangs.
Earlier this month, Canada delivered armoured and tactical vehicles to Port-au-Prince in an effort to support Haitian police locked in a conflict with armed gangs.
Canada, U.S. promise to do more
Last week, Joly met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa. Both committed to doing more for the embattled island nation.
Beyond sanctions, it’s not clear what the two countries have planned — but it could include some sort of intervention by police and military personnel.
The U.S. and its allies are assembling a coalition of willing nations to provide “contributions of personnel and equipment for a potential mission,” Blinken said last week.
Blinken said any such intervention would be “very limited in scope, limited in time” and focused on propping up the Haitian national police, a body that has struggled to keep criminal gangs at bay in recent months.
According to the United Nations, nearly half of Haiti’s 11 million people face acute hunger and 1.8 million are at risk of a food emergency. In Cité Soleil, a sprawling slum in the capital of Port-au-Prince, roughly 19,000 people face a food “catastrophe,” the UN said.