A former rebel leader who is wanted on US drug charges, and was recently elected to the Haitian Senate, was arrested Thursday as he appeared on a live radio talk show. Guy Philippe was being interviewed on the show with another recently elected lawmaker when the host abruptly announced that police were outside the studio in the Petionville district of the capital to arrest him. The host came back on air and said authorities had taken him away. Radio host Gary-Pierre Paul Charles later told The Associated Press the police were members of the Haitian anti-drug unit and fired shots into the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered.
“It was shocking. People were running everywhere,” he told the AP. The US Drug Enforcement Administration, which barely missed capturing him in a 2007 raid, had no immediate comment on the arrest and it wasn’t clear whether he was going to be extradited. Authorities in Haiti and Philippe’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment. Police at a heavily guarded station near the airport where Philippe is believed to have been taken declined to speak to journalists who gathered outside.
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A photo being circulated on social media in Haiti appeared to show Philippe in a white dress shirt being led out of the studio by police. Another image showed him apparently handcuffed in a room while police in camouflage uniforms stood guard with assault rifles. Miami attorney Richard Dansoh, who had worked with Philippe in the past and said he had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate his surrender several years ago, said he expects the former rebel leader will soon be transported to Florida out of concern about how Haitians might react to the arrest of a senator.
“They don’t want to keep him in Haiti because there might be riots,” Dansoh said. Later in the evening, about 30 demonstrators gathered outside the police station saying Philippe should be released. “Our country has no respect for people who are elected,” said one of the men, Jean-Marc Denis, who said he was from the same southern province as the former rebel leader. In the southern Haitian city of Jeremie, about 200 protesters, many carrying photos of Philippe, also called for his release, threatening to set fires if he remained in custody.
Philippe, who has a wife and two children in the US, recently won election to the Senate representing a district in southern Haiti but had not been sworn into office. He is wanted on drug-trafficking charges including conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. The indictment charging him is sealed and federal prosecutors have declined to discuss it. In Haiti, he is a divisive figure who was one of the leaders of a violent 2004 rebellion that led to the ouster for then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Philippe has spent most of his time in recent years in a remote, mountainous part of southern Haiti, where he had extensive family and business connections and it would have been difficult for authorities to locate and arrest him. Still, he would frequently appear in public and gave an extensive interview to the AP for an August 2016 profile. In that interview, he insisted that he is innocent of any crimes, blaming the accusations on enemies trying to silence him. “The path I chose, the way I chose, is not easy. But I chose it and I’m willing to die for it,” he said at the time.
In 2000, he was police chief of the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the country’s second largest city, when he fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic after accusations he was plotting a coup. While in exile, he was accused of masterminding attacks on Haitian police stations and other targets. He returned in 2004 to join the uprising against Aristide, taking over a band of rebels that captured Cap-Haitien. Aristide left the country aboard a US-supplied jet before Philippe’s rebels reached the capital.
After rolling triumphantly into Port-au-Prince, Philippe proclaimed himself “military chief.” But he gave up his arms as a UN stabilization force geared up. He ran for president in 2006, finishing a distant ninth. A year later, heavily armed US and Haitian anti-drug agents raided his home in Les Cayes but found only his family and a maid. US agents came in several Black Hawk helicopters.