A bizarre story has emerged out of the mass anti-government protests and unrest that have engulfed Haiti for nearly two weeks. Five heavily armed Americans have been arrested and are being detained by the Haitian government, according to Haiti's Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond.
They were caught in possession of automatic weapons, pistols, satellite phones, and drones according to a CNN after police pulled over their vehicles for not having valid license plates. Among the group were three others, including two other foreign nationals — a Serbian and Russian — and one Haitian. Crucially the names released by local Haitian reports indicate all of the Americans have US military and special forces backgrounds, and appear to be career private security contractors.
The strange circumstances of heavily armed Americans traveling through a nation in political turmoil after the US State Department last week issued a US travel ban and non-emergency personnel evacuation have led some reports to speculate that they could be part of a mercenary group hired to quell protests.
Indeed, according to the BBC, "A police source told Le Nouvelliste newspaper that the men had said they were working for the Haitian government." The US State Department has confirmed the Haitian authorities have detained a group of Americans.
Local authorities initially said the group was being held on conspiracy charges, however, Haiti's foreign minister later did not confirm such charges. Instead Haiti's police chief Michel-Ange Gédéon, confirmed to CNN that the group of eight were being held for possessing illegal weapons.
8 hommes lourdement armés- 7 étrangers et un Haïtiens- ont été arrêtés ce dimanche 17 février par la PNH. Leurs armes automatiques, leurs moyens de communication et leurs véhicules ont été saisis. Pour le moment ils sont au Commissariat de Port-au-Prince à appris Le Nouvelliste pic.twitter.com/YKRoqLKPY4— Frantz Duval (@Frantzduval) February 18, 2019
CNN claimed the group's identities could not immediately be confirmed, but independent researchers quickly linked a number of names released through local Haitian reports with US-based private security firms. The local newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported their identities as Burton Talon, Christopher Osman M, Daniel Dustin, Estera Michael, Kroeker Kent Leland, Danilo Bajavic, and Vlad Jankovic. One of them is a Serbian national and another is said to be Russian.
Online searches of the names bring up multiple US defense contractors, with at least some of the detained Americans having prior experience as US special forces officers.
This article claims that the names weren’t immediately available but it took two minutes of googling to find that the names have been available for hours. And five more minutes of googling to find that five of the arrested work for five different US based security companies https://t.co/w69BNvEOoN— very successful business person (@StalinMusial) February 18, 2019
For example one report noted the following peculiar background:
One of their reported identities is particularly interesting – Kroeker Kent Leland, who is Partner and Chief Operations Officer of the Kroeker Partners private security company. Kroeker is a former US Marine officer, with “a rich career in military, business enterprise and crisis management operations,” as the company's website modestly puts it. Several other suspects’ names also corresponded to social media profiles of “US citizens claiming military background,” Reuters reports.
The men had been taken into custody Sunday night at a moment mass unrest, make-shift roadblocks, barricades, and police checkpoints have temporarily choked off the normal life of the country.
According to the US government-funded Voice of America, in total authorities discovered six assault rifles, six pistols, ammunition, bullet-proof vests, drones, telecommunications equipment and two vehicles. A video purporting to show the men in custody of Haitian authorities has surfaced online.
Video of 7 US citizens and a Haitian being held at main police station in downtown PAP, #Haiti. They were detained after a cache of automatic weapons, communications equipment and several license plates were found in their vehicles. Why they were stopped is unknown. pic.twitter.com/YvCxaULWIo— HaitiInfoProject 📡 (@HaitiInfoProj) February 18, 2019
If it is confirmed the Americans were operating inside Haiti as military contractors, the authorities will certainly attempt to keep a lid on it, as it will further enrage the popular anti-President Jovenel Moise protests.
One Haitian online publication, Vedeth, has already provocatively written:
“President Jovenel Moise has brought home mercenaries to assassinate not only a desperate people who are clamoring for his resignation by demonstrating peacefully but especially his political opponents.”
Major cities throughout Haiti have for days essentially been on "lockdown" due to civil unrest and mass protests demanding that President Jovenal Moise step down over charges of corruption and rampant inflation under his watch — yet unlike similar unrest happening hundreds of miles due south of the small Caribbean country in Venezuela, Washington has stood in support of the president, who since 2017 has found himself facing a flood of popular anger surrounding the PetroCaribe scandal.
Meanwhile the US State Department urged all American citizens out of the country over the past days, and issued a no-not-travel advisory due to "crime and civil unrest." This was followed on Saturday by national security adviser John Bolton issuing a statement for all sides in Haiti to "respect and protect their democracy".