US bars former Haitian prime minister from entering the country

Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has been banned from entering the United States as part of the Caribbean island nation’s ongoing crackdown on corruption.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the sanctions to Lamothe on Friday, citing his “involvement in significant corruption”.

“Lamothe embezzled at least $60 million from the PetroCaribe infrastructure investment and social security fund of the Haitian government for personal gain,” Blinken alleged.

“By this act of corruption and his direct involvement in the management of the fund, he abused his role as a government official and contributed to the current instability in Haiti.”

The Latin American country, home to more than 11.4 million people, has been besieged by gang violence and political instability, especially after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors, as well as officials in Haiti, have pursued responsibility for Moise’s murder. Dozens of people have been detained in connection with the killing in Haiti, while the US has arrested and charged 11 suspects for their alleged role in the planned “coup”.

The only member of the 11 to plead guilty, Haitian Chilean businessman Rodolphe Jaar, was sentenced to life in Miami prison on Friday. The others await trial in July.

However, the US has cast a wide net to stamp out corruption in Haiti, even beyond the assassination attempt. In April, Blinken laid up visa restrictions about the former president of the Haitian Chamber of Deputies Gary Bodeau, who also denies him entry into the country.

Bodeau and Lamothe join other prominent Haitian politicians accused of corruption by the US. In December, the US Treasury also sanctioned then-Senator Rony Celestin and former Senator Richard Lenine Hervé Fourcand for international drug trafficking, accusing the latter of using his private jet to orchestrate their entry.

And in November, the US and Canada coordinated sanctions against Haiti’s then Senate President Joseph Lambert and former Senate President Youri Latortue. Both were charged with supporting gang violence through money laundering and drug trafficking.

The senate was Haiti’s last democratically elected institution, but the 10 remaining senators saw their terms expire in January. The last national election was held in 2016: before his assassination, Moise ruled by decree, postponing expected votes.

Acting Prime Minister of Haiti Ariel Henry was selected by Moise shortly before his death. Henry has called for new elections in 2023, but he too has failed to set a date.

The power vacuum in Haiti has led to an increase in gang violence. United Nations officials said in December that about 60 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was under gang control, with devastating consequences.

A gang-led blockade in October halted the flow of goods from the Varreux fuel terminal, bringing the capital to a near standstill. Hospitals struggled to power their generators, and with limited access to clean water, several residents contracted cholera – after more than three years with no reported cases.

An anti-government protester holds up a photo of then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe painted as a demon in 2014 [File: Marie Arago/Reuters]

Lamothe, the politician sanctioned on Friday, served as both planning and external cooperation minister and prime minister. He resigned in December 2014, amid anti-government protests.

Lamothe, a close ally of former President Michel Martelly, had been tasked with overseeing Haiti’s recovery from a devastating earthquake in 2010. But Lamothe became a target for Martelly’s opposition, who branded the former businessman corrupt.

An 11-member commission appointed by Martelly to deal with the 2014 political crisis eventually recommended that Lamothe resign, and he complied. He had been in office as Prime Minister for just over two years.

Canada has also sanctioned Lamothe, as well as Martelly himself, for corruption.