Eight men with an arsenal of weapons and military gear, including U.S. Navy SEALs and military veterans, were arrested in Port-au-Prince, Haiti for roaming around with their guns, reportedly on a “government mission.” Yet, seven of them, including five U.S. citizens and two Serbians who are permanent residents of the U.S., were released and allowed to return home in a plane, without charges.
Madame Boukman, an activist with Fanmi Lavalas, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s social-democratic party, has tweeted about the affair, and the troubling details surrounding the men and their backgrounds, the circumstances concerning their presence in Haiti, and the elephant in the room in the form of U.S. policy towards Haiti. That policy has existed within the context of colonialism, regime change, and support for death squads and dictatorial regimes.
“7 Americans linked to US military and security companies with machine guns, pistols, drones, satellite phones, bullet-proof vests and other cute toys were arrested last night in #Haiti. In other words, mercenaries to terrorize the people to put down the rebellion. #HaitiProtest” Boukman tweeted.
Ultimately, it was reported that five Americans, two Serbian nationals with permanent U.S. residency and a Haitian national were arrested. All but the Haitian man were released. Three of the Americans— Kent Leland Kroeker, Christopher Mark McKinley and Christopher Michael Osman–are veterans, according to the Miami Herald. Kroeker, 52, is a 20-year Marine veteran who runs an off-road engineering company. McKinley, 49, a former Navy SEAL, has been in trouble with the police in Ohio. Osman, 44, is also a former Marine and Navy SEAL who fought in Afghanistan following 9/11. He was found guilty of a road rage attack in 2017.
The other two Americans are Dustin Porte, 42, whose electrical contracting company was once a subcontractor for the Department of Homeland Security, and Talon Ray Burton, 52, who is the director of a security company.
The other men are Vlade Jankvic, 41, and Danilo Bajagic, 37, and Michael Estera, 39, a Haitian national who goes by the pseudonym “Clifford.” When stopped by police, the group was riding in two vehicles without license plates, and refused to provide their identification. Among the arsenal found were six pistols, six automatic rifles, three satellite phones, two professional drones and other material including backpacks, gun vests, a telescope, tapes and documents with a list of names. According to Port-au-Prince chief of police Joel Casseus, the men told police “they were on a government mission” and “they didn’t have to speak to us.” They did not specify which government for which they were working, and were released and escorted by U.S. embassy staff to the airport VIP diplomatic lounge without handcuffs, then boarded their flight. The men reportedly told U.S. officials they were in the country providing security for a “government-partnered ‘businessman.’” Haitian Attorney General Paul Eronce Villard, who along with the U.S. consul general had visited the detainees, denied he was pressured to release the men, or that justice minister Pierre-Richard Casimir had visited them. Villard later said the police received pressure from the National Palace to release the men.
According to VOA, a U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed that U.S. and Haitian authorities coordinated the return of the men to the U.S.
Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant called the eight men “mercenaries” and “terrorists” who were intent on destabilizing the government of Haiti and targeting the executive branch. Madame Boukman told Atlanta Black Star that these men came to Haiti with an apparent purpose—to kill the political opposition to the Haitian government.
“They’re seemingly death squads / mercenaries sent to murder protesters and opposition leaders. They had a list of names in their possession and according to what’s being said, certain people were targets – for example, journalists from an anti-government radio station, members,” Boukman said.
“In November during and after a nationwide demonstration, a bunch of people were murdered by way of bullets to the head. A baby was killed, for example, while there were no police or armed person around. Same for protesters, especially some who were walking home and out of nowhere one of them would fall to the ground with a bullet to the head,” she added. “There were snipers all over the country. They were photographed and other white men with masks on their faces. The Director of the Haitian National Police said he did not recognize those men, the vehicles, uniforms or weapons.”
“It’s just a mess,” Madame Boukman said of the present situation in Haiti, noting an opposition leader with whom she is friends said his name was on the list as well.
The backdrop of the arrests and subsequent release of the mercenaries were two weeks of protests in which Haitians demanded the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, the U.S.-backed leader, and Prime Minister Ceant, amid rising inflation and allegations of corruption. The Toyota Prado and Ford pickup the men drove were traced to people close to President Moise. These events are not occurring in a vacuum as the U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and since that time has been involved in governmental and corporate economic exploitation to keep Haiti impoverished, meddling in the internal political affairs of Haiti, and has maintained a racist immigration policy against Haitians coming to America.
Haiti has suffered a great deal after it threw off the shackles of enslavement and colonial rule and became the first Black republic. The recent events with heavily armed white men arrested in Port-au-Prince and returned to America without consequences provide evidence that the U.S. continues to disrupt Haiti in a neocolonial fashion, just as it once occupied the Caribbean country and imposed its will with the violence of military force.