Did Anti-Drug Crusade Lead to Haiti President’s Killing?
This article features Government Accountability Project’s client, Keith McNichols, and was originally published here.
An explosive new report suggests that the high-profile assassination of Jovenel Moïse may have been related to a crackdown on drug trafficking and a list he was compiling of Haitian business and political elites involved in the trade, adding yet another theory to the possible motives for the former president’s killing.
Before he was shot dead, President Moïse had planned to hand the names over to the US government, according to a New York Times report published December 12. The Times spoke to four senior Haitian advisers and officials who had knowledge of the document. Unnamed officials also told the Times that the hitmen had confessed to ransacking Moïse’s house in search of the list.
“The president had ordered the officials to spare no one, not even the power brokers who had helped propel him into office,” the Times reported.
A “central figure” included on the list, according to the Times, was businessman Charles Saint-Rémy, alias “Kiko.” The Times previously reported that US anti-drug officials who had worked in Haiti had suspected Saint-Rémy’s involvement in drug trafficking.
In 2015, Saint-Rémy allegedly met with senior Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials, raising questions of corruption, according to Keith McNichols, a former DEA agent who was investigating the smuggling of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin from Colombia to Haiti. McNichols, and another DEA whistleblower, spoke out about how that investigation was grossly mishandled.
Saint-Rémy – who responded “no, no, no” to the Times when asked about alleged links to drug trafficking – is the brother-in-law of former President Michel Martelly, a close friend of current Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Haiti’s former chief prosecutor previously accused Henry of being connected to Moïse’s murder.
The dossier wasn’t the only move Moïse’s allegedly made against drug trafficking. In mid-2021, the DEA reportedly made Moïse aware of two clandestine airstrips used to receive drug flights in an area north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Moïse ordered one of the airstrips destroyed, but local authorities reportedly refused to do so, according to the Times report.
Earlier that year, a close ally of the former president also allegedly ordered a crackdown on the country’s eel industry, which is used “as a way to launder illicit profits,” the Times report said.
These actions and the list he supposedly compiled were just one part of a “broader series of clashes Moïse had with powerful political and business figures, some suspected of narcotics and arms trafficking,” the Times reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
The latest reporting adds one more theory to the possible motives for President Moïse’s assassination. Yet his anti-drug crusade was never all that ambitious in a country that does not play a major role in the regional cocaine trade.
Aside from a few isolated arrests and extraditions, Haiti’s security forces failed to capture any major drug traffickers – or the powerful elites protecting them – under Moïse’s watch. Arguably the last major blow to drug trafficking in Haiti came with the arrest of Guy Philippe, who the DEA tried to capture in 2007 before he was later convicted in 2017 of laundering drug money in the United States.
What’s more, just eight percent of cocaine departing South America transited through the eastern Caribbean corridor via either Haiti or the Dominican Republic in 2019, according to the DEA’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, has emerged as a much bigger player in the transnational cocaine trade, thanks to its role as a regional hub for container ships, especially those arriving from Venezuela.
To be sure, in 2019, Haitian police seized a total of just 10 kilograms of cocaine. In 2020, the number rose to 103 kilograms, according to the State Department’s 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR). That said, the low seizure figures are likely more of an indication of the Haitian police’s woeful anti-narcotics operations, suggesting that the amount of cocaine passing through could be higher.
Indeed, notorious drug traffickers like Bedouin “Jaques” Ketant have in the past relied on Haiti as a transit point for large cocaine shipments. But the vast majority of cocaine heading north departs South America via the Eastern Pacific route off the shores of Colombia and Ecuador. The drugs then pass through Central America before continuing on to Mexico and eventually the United States.
In addition, clandestine airstrips like those reportedly targeted by Moïse do not abound in Haiti, as they do in other nations that serve as major aerial passageways, such as Guatemala and Honduras. In Honduras, the armed forces have destroyed 21 airstrips this year alone, according to local media reports. Since 2014, security forces there have uncovered more than 320 such airstrips.