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U.S. criminal complaint alleges South Floridians smuggled guns to powerful Haitian gang

 A Haitian gang member in Port-au-Prince inspects U.S.-made AK-47 assault rifles smuggled into the country last month.
Rodrigo Abd
A Haitian gang member in Port-au-Prince inspects U.S.-made AK-47 assault rifles smuggled into the country last month.

An FBI investigation accuses three South Florida Haitians of purchasing high-power rifles and pistols for 400 Mawozo, the gang now holding U.S. missionaries.

A key factor in the growing power of street gangs that control much of Haiti now, is the uncontrolled smuggling of weapons into that country. U.S. officials allege the guns are coming from South Florida, too.

The FBI has filed a criminal complaint against three Haitian residents of South Florida for allegedly smuggling arms to Haiti’s 400 Mawozo street gang. That’s the criminal group based outside Port-au-Prince that last month abducted 16 Americans and a Canadian, including young children, who belong to a U.S.-based missionary aid organization.

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The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., says the three South Florida Haitians — one of whom is a U.S. citizen — are themselves 400 Mawozo members. It alleges they purchased high-power rifles and pistols in Florida at the behest of the gang’s top leaders in Haiti.

In a WhatsApp message cited in the complaint, one suspect boasts:

“We are 400 Mawozo and…We are snakes. We slither to get where we are going. They would be shocked to see Mawozo invade Miami.”

The South Florida suspects allegedly bought the guns, including a .50-caliber Barrett semi-automatic rifle, after tricking an employer into wiring some $30,000 into their bank accounts and falsifying purchasing documents. They then hid the guns in barrels under clothes and sundry household items before they were shipped in September and October.

As Haiti's government and economy collapse, violent street gangs are estimated to have taken control of large swaths of the country, including almost half of Port-au-Prince. They are responsible for a terrifying wave of ransom kidnapping, and their armed battles have forced almost 20,000 Haitians to flee their homes in the past year.

400 Mawozo is still holding the U.S. and Canadian missionaries, demanding million-dollar ransoms.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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