U.S. lawmakers call for sanctions on Haitian gangs and 'warlords'

A man walks between road blocks set up by gangs after they waged intense gun battles, shuttering main avenues and a municipal market in the downtown area of the capital, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 27, 2022. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol/File Photo

Sept 29 (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers on Thursday said the United States should sanction Haitian gangs and those who help finance them, as the Caribbean nation remains gripped by a gang blockade that has caused increasingly dire fuel shortages.

Gregory Meeks and Michael McCaul, during a hearing of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the United States should take action against the gangs, which now control vast portions of Haiti's territory.

"That's something we have to start looking at - sanctions against the gang leaders, and those who are financing the gangs and those who are sending the weapons," said Meeks, a Democrat and chair of the committee.

Gangs in Haiti this month blocked the exits to the country's main fuel terminal in response to Prime Minister Ariel Henry's announcement of an increase in fuel prices, leading to critical shortages of gasoline and diesel.

Day-to-day activities have ground to a halt in Haiti, with key services including hospitals facing closure for lack of fuel to power generators.

"I would very much be in favor of a measure to punish - we call them oligarchs, they're really warlords - controlling the gangs and depriving any sense of governance in Haiti," said McCaul, the committee's top Republican.

The congressmen did not name specific gang members or financiers or explain how such sanctions would work. It is not clear how much gang leaders use the official financial system to move or store money.

Decisions on U.S. sanctions are typically made by the executive branch rather than by Congress.

The United Nations Security Council has discussed a resolution to sanction Haitian gangs.

The hearing included testimony by Haitian civil society leaders who described the effects of gang violence, corruption and poverty.

"I ask for support to impose sanctions on high profile individuals involved in corruption and supporting and facilitating gang violence in Haiti," said activist Velina Charlier.

"And by high profile individuals, I clearly mean the ones in the politics ... and the oligarchs, the business sector."

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas Editing by Alistair Bell

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