US blacklists two top Haiti politicians as 'drug traffickers'

The United States imposed sanctions on two top Haitian politicians, former Senate President Joseph Lambert and former senator Youri Latortue, accusing them of being longtime drug traffickers.

The US Treasury said Lambert, who made a bid for the presidency last year, and Latortue, formerly a top security official, "have abused their official positions to traffic drugs and collaborated with criminal and gang networks to undermine the rule of law in Haiti."

In a parallel statement placing Lambert on the State Department's blacklist, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the powerful politician was involved in "significant corruption and a gross violation of human rights."

Blinken said there was also credible evidence that Lambert was behind an extrajudicial killing.

The announcements, which said Canada was also sanctioning the two, came as the international community seeks to help the Haitian government restore order and regain control of crucial port facilities after a surge in gang violence.

Since mid-September armed gangs have virtually paralyzed Haiti, including blockading the most important oil terminal of the country, causing shortages of fuel and drinking water.

On Monday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that it was urgent to act on a proposal to send an international peacekeeping force to Haiti to deal with the "nightmare" there.

John Kirby, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said Friday that discussions were ongoing on a multinational force for Haiti.

"We're actively involved in talking with a variety of partners about what a force could look like," he said.

"No decisions have been made about any one particular state participating," he said, adding that the force would be restricted to "provision of humanitarian assistance."

- Gangs and drugs -

Both Lambert and Latortue have been accused of close associations with gangs.

A classified 2006 US diplomatic memo leaked in 2010 by Wikileaks said Latortue "may well be the most brazenly corrupt of leading Haitian politicians."

It identified him as the "first cousin once removed" of former prime minister Gerard Latortue.

The Treasury said Lambert and Latortue have long histories of drug trafficking.

Both were deeply involved in trafficking cocaine from Colombia and Haiti, gave protection to other traffickers, and ordered followers to carry out violent acts on their behalf.

"The United States and our international partners will continue to take action against those who facilitate drug trafficking, enable corruption, and seek to profit from instability in Haiti," said Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson in a statement.

Kirby said US authorities "stand ready to take additional action as appropriate against other bad actors."

Treasury sanctions seek to seize any assets that those named have under US jurisdiction and block any US individuals or entities, including international banks with US offices, from doing business with them.

The State Department designation generally bans them from entry into the United States. The State Department also blacklisted Lambert's wife Jesula Lambert Domond.

pmh/md