PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - The U.S. State Department said several men arrested in Haiti with a cache of weaponry at a time of violent demonstrations have been returned to the United States before a scheduled court hearing in the Caribbean nation.
The department said in an emailed statement that the return was coordinated with Haitian authorities, but a spokesman for Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant told Radio Vision 2000 on Thursday that he was not aware of the men's departure and demanded an immediate explanation from the justice minister.
Five U.S. citizens were among eight men arrested on Sunday while carrying automatic weapons and other arms and driving in cars without license plates. Police spokesman Michel-Ange Louis-Jeune has said the men told police they were on a "mission," but they refused to say anything else except that they would call their unidentified bosses.
Prosecutors had said the men would appear in court Wednesday. Instead, they were taken to the airport. One of the men is a Haitian citizen and apparently was not returned.
Carel Pedre, a Haitian media personality, said in a video posted on Facebook that he was on a commercial flight to Miami with the men and posted a video of them on social media. He said that when the half-empty plane landed, the crew announced that officials would be boarding it before anyone could disembark. He then said U.S. officials led them away.
The Miami U.S. attorney's office referred all questions about the men's status to the State Department, which did not issue further comment. There was no public record Thursday morning of any charges against them in Miami federal court.
'No authority at all'
Jean Clarens Renois, a former presidential candidate, said in a phone interview that the situation has eroded confidence in Haiti's government.
"The seven guys easily left the country," he said. "It's kind of incomprehensible for a nation. There is no authority at all."
The arrests came after more than a week of violent demonstrations in which Haitians demanded the resignation of President Jovenel Moise amid rising inflation and allegations of corruption. Ceant has promised to reduce certain government budgets by 30 percent, lower the cost of goods and investigate allegations of misspending tied to a Venezuelan program that provided Haiti with subsidized oil.
Haitians, however, remained wary of those promises, and Renois said people have lost trust in the government especially given the outcome of the case involving the eight men.
"I used to read that Haiti is a failed country," he said. "Now we can say that."