Kenya to the U.S.: Do more to stop the illegal flow of weapons to Haitis criminal gangs

By Doug Barry

Americans should thank Kenya for putting its soldiers and police officers in harm’s way by leading an UN-backed effort to prevent Haiti from becoming a failed state. But as close friends and allies, we need to be honest about chances for success if illegal weapons flow from the U.S. to criminal gangs that have brought civil society to its knees.

A recent report from the United Nations confirms an ugly and dangerous truth: the U.S. gun industry, and weak U.S. gun laws, are facilitating the exploding humanitarian disaster in Haiti. The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime documented that a network of criminal actors including members of the Haitian diaspora living in the U.S. “often source firearms from across the U.S.” and smuggle them into Haiti illegally.

“Popular handguns selling for $400-$500 at federally licensed firearms outlets or private gun shows in the U.S. can be resold for as much as $10,000 in Haiti,” the report explained. “Higher-powered rifles such as AK47s, AR15s and Galils, an Israeli-made automatic rifle, are typically in higher demand from gangs, and command higher prices.”

The main gun distribution point in the U.S. is Florida. The report said the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s investigations unit indicated “a surge in firearms trafficking from Florida to Haiti between 2021 and 2022.” These weapons include “.50 caliber sniper rifles, .308 rifles, and even belt-fed machine guns.”

Weak U.S. laws and reckless gun industry practices are to blame. The report noted: “Weapons are frequently procured through straw man purchases (people who buy guns with the intent of selling them to third parties) in U.S. states with looser gun laws and fewer purchasing restrictions” and then transported to Florida where they are concealed inside consumer products, electronic equipment, garment linings, frozen food items and the hull of freighters.

There is a clear nexus between the U.S. guns that arms gangs in Haiti, and the drugs those gangs then traffic back to the U.S. The report explains that Haiti has long been a trans-shipment hub to send cocaine, cannabis, heroin and amphetamines to the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

Forever instability is not an option

Since Haiti’s President was assassinated in 2022, gangs have grown more powerful, and gang violence has reached a level not seen in decades. Last December, the U.N. estimated that gangs-controlled 60 percent of Haiti’s capital; other estimates put it closer to 100 percent. Local police forces are outgunned and overwhelmed. Outside help is desperately needed. But those helping need absolutely clarity on mission goals and demand that the U.S. government do everything in its power to stop the flow of weapons.

Mexico is one country in the region that has had enough of violence committed with illegal gun imports from the U.S. Its justice department has sued manufacturers and gun stores for damage suffered by Mexican citizens at the hands of drug gangs using guns smuggled from the U.S. to spread terror throughout the country, with instability now bleeding across Mexico’s southern border. The gun industry has attempted to block the lawsuits, citing Constitutional and other legal protections, but several have been approved for trial, though defendants will appeal to higher courts. Courts and juries can stop the slaughter by forcing the gun industry to act responsibly. In addition, the U.S. government needs to increase its vigilance at ports to curb the illegal export of weapons before they leave the country and to increase prosecution of those who flout existing law.

Americans who pay attention to this issue are grateful to Kenya for its assistance and know that the decision to send peacekeepers to Haiti is contentious. Meanwhile, other countries, including the U.S. have expressed interest in committing security forces under the UN purview including Benin, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh and Chad.

These countries with Kenya all need to tell President Biden and members of Congress that more must be done to eliminate the supply of guns that have turned Haiti into a powder keg where their young peacekeepers will soon be sent. Forever instability is not acceptable when alternatives exist in plain sight. Friends and allies need to be honest about what’s required if peace, stability and dignity are to return to the Haitian people.

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