Haitian gangs’ growing funds, arsenals challenge planned intervention -report

(Reuters) – Haitian gangs are increasingly economically autonomous, a Geneva-based criminal research group warned, using funds coerced from private businesses, local residents and families of kidnapping victims to pay for guns and soldiers.

“Gangs have undergone a radical evolution, going from rather unstructured actors dependent on resources provided by public or private patronage to violent entrepreneurs,” said the report, published on Monday by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime report.

“These entities are nowadays far more economically autonomous and territorially powerful, making them less controllable,” added the report, which cites anonymous interviews with politicians, police, aid workers, businessmen and residents across the Caribbean nation.

This, it said, poses myriad challenges to a long-awaited U.N.-backed international force, which Haiti’s unelected government requested to support its under-resourced police and alleviate the humanitarian crisis back in October 2022.

The U.N. ratified this force late last year, but information has yet to be released on how big it will be and when it will deploy.

According to the report, businesses are being coerced into paying gangs up to $20,000 per week as well as percentages on containers coming off ships, sometimes helping arrange arms deliveries in lieu of cash payments.

Gang checkpoints, which abound on roads into the capital and delineating rival gangs’ shifting territories collect up to $8,000 per day and have become highly bureaucratized, some even issuing weekly cards to process people faster, it said.

The report also said the so-called kidnapping “industry” could be conservatively estimated to generate some $25 million per year, especially factoring in a growing trend of abducting commuters by busload.

In the capital’s hard-hit Cite Soleil and Canaan areas, it added, there were reports of bodies being left on streets with missing organs and gang clinics being used for organ extraction, pointing to possible trafficking.

The report recommended the U.N.-backed force prioritize securing the country’s land and sea borders to prevent further stocking of assault weapons, take measures to prevent intel leaking and arms theft and strategize with sanctions committees.

Current U.N. sanctions target five gang leaders, which the report said had resulted in “limited” evidence of impact, noting that the gang leaders have little need to travel or keep money abroad and can recoup funds through kidnap ransoms.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland)

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Sarah Morland