Renowned coup leader Guy Philippe, repatriated by the US government on Thursday, has raised concerns about his potential impact on the already politically unstable and gang-violent nation.
When Philippe returned to Haiti, gangs that had become immensely powerful in the political vacuum left by President Jovenel Moïse’s death in July 2021, it was unclear what role, if any, he anticipated to play.
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According to Robert Fatton, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and an expert on Haitian affairs, Philippe was a dynamic leader who played a significant role in the 2004 uprising against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and had strong connections to the police, politicians, and business community.
“Whether those kinds of ties will be revised, it’s not clear. What is very clear is that Guy Philippe has always seen himself as some sort of a messianic figure who should lead Haiti,” Fatton remarked.
A well-known news outlet received confirmation from Philippe’s lawyer, Jean Joseph Louicher, that their client had reached Port-au-Prince.
alluding to a US money laundering accusation to which he entered a guilty plea, he remarked, “We’ve been fighting for four years to reduce the sentence of Guy Philippe to bring him home.”
According to Louicher, he was waiting for Philippe to be released by immigration officials and the Haiti National Police after being processed by policy “so he can go home safely to his family today.”
After stepping off a bus, Philippe—dressed in a gray jumpsuit—was observed entering the Haiti National Police station. He was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
While in exile in the Dominican Republic, Philippe was charged with organizing assaults against police stations and other targets. Philippe had previously been the police chief of the seaside city of Cap-Haitien in the north.
In 2004, he went back to Haiti and spearheaded a group of rebels that took control of Cap-Haitien while participating in an insurrection that resulted in the removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
While taking part in a live radio discussion broadcast, Philippe was detained in Haiti in January 2017. He had just been elected to the Senate of Haiti, and to prevent any unrest over his extradition to the United States, officials hurried him to the airport.
After years of successfully avoiding capture and botched attacks on his isolated residence in Haiti’s western coastal area, including US Drug Enforcement Administration officers and helicopters, the former rebel commander was apprehended.
When speaking with The Associated Press in 2016 from his stronghold in Pestel, Philippe declared his innocence of any crimes and his willingness to thwart any efforts by law authorities to apprehend him.
Philippe came before a federal judge in Miami shortly after his arrest in 2017 to answer to ten-year-old narcotics allegations from the US, including money laundering and conspiracy in traffigkinf cocaine.
In June 2017, he entered a guilty plea to a charge of money laundering and was subsequently sentenced to nine years in jail.
According to the authorities, Philippe, a former senior member of the Haitian National Police, had taken use of his position to guard narcotics shipments in return for payment. He admitted to taking bribes for up to $3.5 million, according to officials.
The lecturer, Fatton, mentioned that Philippe had just given interviews in which he, “clearly said he intends to go back to Haiti and be involved in Haiti, and even much more than he used to be.”
Although Fatton anticipates Philippe to be involved in Haitian politics, he said that there is a great deal of ambiguity about his future since many Haitians don’t understand why the US decided to repatriate him, “when you have a rather explosive situation in the country.”
Furthermore, it’s unknown if Philippe knew Jimmy Chérizier, also known as “Barbecue,” or any other prominent gang boss who was formerly a police officer.
According to court records, Philippe was freed from jail on September 7. The people in and around his former stronghold staged rallies in the weeks that followed, blocking highways and demanding that the government give Philippe travel permits so he could return home.