Illegal Gun Trafficking Fuels Violence in Haiti

( – In mid–March, Haiti’s prime minister resigned, forced out of office by the gang violence that’s tearing the Caribbean nation apart. Although Haiti has almost no industry, the country is awash in modern guns, fueling the violence and giving the gangs enough firepower to overwhelm the disintegrating police force. Embarrassingly, it seems most of these guns are being smuggled in from the US.

In January, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued a report on the illegal drug and gun trades in Haiti. The report found that while about 38,000 legal guns are registered with the country’s National Police (HNP), there were an estimated half a million illegal ones in the country — and that number is four years old.

It’s likely to be a lot higher by now because there’s a large and lucrative gun-smuggling trade into Haiti. In the first half of 2022, Haitian customs made over 112,000 seizures of guns or ammunition, most of them sent from the US.

For Haitian immigrants in the US, gun smuggling is hugely profitable. A handgun that sells for $500 here can sell for $10,000 in Haiti — and a semi-automatic rifle will bring a much higher price. Guns are being bought across the US in straw purchases, trafficked to Florida, and then smuggled from there to Haiti. If they make it through the country’s not-very-efficient customs, they’re then sold to the gangs.

In Haiti, cops are pointing to semi-automatic rifles such as AR-15s, AKs, and Galils in the hands of gang members. In the US, Homeland Security agents say they’ve found heavier weapons, including belt-fed machineguns and .50 rifles, in intercepted Haiti-bound consignments.

The steady flow of guns from the US to Haiti is destabilizing a country that’s never been all that stable to start with; it’s also inflicting huge suffering on the Haitian people, with thousands dead and over 360,000 forced from their homes. The US government has placed an arms embargo on Haiti, but the scale of illegal trafficking is making that irrelevant.

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