Guy Philippe, Senator-Elect and Former Paramilitary Chief, Arrested on U.S. Drug Charges

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Guy Philippe (right) and former death-squad leader Jodel Chamblain (left) headed the “rebels” who helped overthrow President Aristide in February 2004. A year later, Philippe was indicted by a U.S. grand jury for drug trafficking and money laundering. Credit: Pablo Aneli

Guy Philippe, a paramilitary coup leader and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) most-wanted fugitive who was elected to Haiti’s Senate in November, was arrested on Jan. 5, just days before he would have been sworn into office and obtained immunity.

Philippe had been wanted since 2005 under a sealed drug indictment (unsealed Jan. 6) in the United States for years, but previous attempts to arrest him failed.

Last year, the DEA confirmed to me that they maintained “apprehension authority” for Philippe but would not confirm if any active efforts were underway to do so. He was extradited the day of his capture by Haitian police to the United States and will be arraigned in Miami on Jan. 13.

Although Philippe has spent most of the past decade in Haiti’s rural Grand Anse department where he maintains strict control, he became more active in the country’s politics over the past year as he campaigned for senator. President-elect Jovenel Moïse of the Haitian Bald-Headed Party (PHTK) openly campaigned with Philippe. The PHTK allied with Philippe’s Consortium party early in 2016. A PHTK adviser, Renald Luberice, tweeted shortly after the arrest that it was “illegal and arbitrary.” Fires and roadblocks almost immediately went up in Philippe’s hometown and surrounding areas, according to local news reports.

After last year’s elections were stymied and then scrapped due to fraud and Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor, Philippe became one of the most outspoken critics of the interim government of President Jocelerme Privert. In February 2016, he threatened “civil war” if elections were not held by that April. In May, with elections still yet to occur, Philippe was alleged to be the ringleader of an armed raid on a police station in the southern city of Les Cayes. One policeman and four assailants were killed.

Elections were eventually held on Nov. 20, 2016, and Philippe won a seat in the Senate, representing the Grand Anse department. Parties allied with PHTK and Philippe will make up the majority of the incoming parliament to be sworn in this week.

Over the summer, a source close to the Haitian government, who requested anonymity, suggested that the U.S. would move against Philippe before he became Senator to “send a message” to the incoming parliament, which includes other figures accused of corruption and drug trafficking. Now that appears to have happened, but not before he helped his allies secure an electoral victory this past November.

Philippe, however, is widely believed to have been involved in murders, atrocities, and other human rights abuses over the past 20 years, while serving a political agenda backed by Haiti’s elite and their international allies. He received training by the U.S. military while a cadet in Ecuador in the early 90s before returning to Haiti in 1995. However former president Jean Bertrand Aristide had disbanded the military that same year, due its long history of involvement in human rights abuses and coup d’états.

Philippe, who has, in his own words, “always dreamed of becoming a soldier,” instead became police chief in the Delmas neighborhood of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. During his tenure, according to Human Rights Watch, “dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed, mainly by police under the command of Inspector Berthony Bazile, Philippe’s deputy.”

In 2000, Philippe was accused of planning a coup d’état against president René Preval but fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic before he could be arrested. At first, Dominican authorities told the Haitian government they would help arrest the fugitive police officer and his allies. According to a former Haitian government official, who requested anonymity, Dominican police apprehended Philippe and were set to hand him over to Haitian authorities, but later reversed themselves. Philippe would remain free until his arrest last week.

From his safe-haven in the Dominican Republic, Philippe was accused of leading attacks on Haitian police stations and supporters of President Aristide, who had just been elected for a second time. In an interview with author Peter Hallward, Philippe denied his involvement but added, “don’t worry, when the time is right people will learn what really happened.” At the time, the Aristide administration was under attack both internally and externally. A “civil society” group calling itself the Group of 184, led by Evans Paul, Andy Apaid, and Reginald Boulos among others (all now political allies or financiers of the PHTK), advocated for Aristide’s ouster. Philippe, when asked about the role of the Group of 184 in the various police station assaults, responded: “I know that certain political leaders and representatives of civil society can help you with this, since they know everything about what happened … Since they’re cowards, however, they’ll just tell you that they know nothing about it.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. and other international lenders froze assistance to the newly elected government, squeezing the Aristide administration and contributing to a rapid decline in living standards. Stanley Lucas, now a PHTK advisor but then working for the U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI), was actively supporting the opposition. According to a 2006 report in the New York Times, Lucas led training of the opposition in the Dominican Republic in 2003. At the time, Philippe was also at the hotel and met Lucas, though he denies they talked politics. Philippe also said he met with Lucas while in exile in Ecuador in 2000 and 2001 and that they were “good friends.”

In 2004, Philippe had joined with other former members of the Haitian military and led a paramilitary assault on the country with the stated aim of toppling the Aristide administration. Before his forces could reach the capital, Aristide was flown out of the country on a U.S. airplane. It was Feb. 29, 2004, Guy Philippe’s 36th birthday.

Philippe ran for president in 2006, receiving less than 2% of the vote. The DEA led a high-profile raid in 2007 seeking to arrest the paramilitary leader, but former Haitian government officials have questioned the U.S. commitment to apprehending Philippe, describing the previous efforts involving helicopters and large shows of force as “theater.”

Philippe’s political ambitions got a shot in the arm with the election of Michel Martelly in 2010. The new president was a natural ally of Philippe, as Martelly made the restoration of the military a key part of the platform of the PHTK, his new political party. When Martelly finally held elections in 2015, restrictions on candidates with criminal indictments or convictions were lifted. After being disqualified by the Provisional Electoral Council in 2009 due to his drug-trafficking indictment, Philippe launched another run for Senator in 2015. The Miami Herald dubbed the likely incoming parliament “Legal Bandits,” a riff on a popular Martelly song.

Asked last summer if the U.S. had any reaction to Philippe’s Senate candidacy, U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti Kenneth Merten responded, “Haiti’s authorities must hold its own citizens accountable for any kind of election-related intimidation, violence, or threat to the stability of the country.” He dismissed questions about Philippe likely taking a seat in the Senate as “hypothetical positing.” However, with Philippe set to be sworn in on Jan. 9 – which would have accorded him parliamentary immunity from arrest – the U.S., in coordination with the Privert government, apparently decided to act.

An earlier version of this article was published on the Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s website.

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