Haiti sees spike in weapons smuggled from US as gun violence rages

·2-min read
Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Miami speaks as weapons seized by U.S. authorities that had been destined for illegal export to Haiti are displayed at a news conference in Miami, Florida (REUTERS)
Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Miami speaks as weapons seized by U.S. authorities that had been destined for illegal export to Haiti are displayed at a news conference in Miami, Florida (REUTERS)

US federal officials revealed that the number of weapons being illegally smuggled into Haiti has reached unprecedented levels.

Gangs in Haiti have been engaged in brutal and violent shootouts, leaving hundreds dead in just the past six weeks.

Police in the Caribbean country complained that weapons smuggled in from the US have left them at a disadvantage against the gangs at a time when they're already outnumbered.

During a press conference in Miami, Homeland Security Investigations US Special Agent Anthony Salisbury said "not only have we seen a marked uptick in the number of weapons, but a serious increase in the calibre and type of firearms being illegally trafficked."

According to Mr Salisbury the DHS planned to increase its efforts to stop weapon smuggling from the US into Haiti.

He said that ports in South Florida were often the starting point for the weapons that are shipped out of the country.

"In the wrong hands, these weapons are easily capable of causing mass casualties," Mr Salisbury said.

The sale of small arms and ammunition to Haitian groups not affiliated with the government was banned by a UN Security Council vote earlier this summer, but it has not stemmed the flow of illegal weapons from the US.

Mr Salisbury revealed that one of the weapons shipments was disguised as a piece of cargo intended for the "Episcopal Church of Haiti."

The church issued a statement after that revelation saying it was not expecting any shipments, especially not weapons, but a priest from the denomination has been arrested in connection to the smuggling investigation.

Gun smuggling from the US is not just a problem for Haiti; Mexico has also complained that US weapons are flooding into the country and into the arms of drug cartels and other gangs, fueling further violence in the country.

The Mexican government estimated that more than half a million guns are smuggled into the country from the US every year. Mexican officials have blamed lax US gun laws for the flow of firearms over its borders, and have gone so far as to sue US gun manufacturers for fueling the nation's violence.

Two years ago, DHS and the US Customs and Border Protection agency launched "Operation Without a Trace" to crack down on weapon smuggling out of the US. Since then, the agencies, along with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive, have launched 534 investigations and seized $29m from smugglers. In addition to the money, the agencies have also collected 12,000 guns, 4,700 magazines, and 700,000 rounds of ammunition that was headed to Mexico.