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Illegal weapons smuggling from U.S. to Haiti surges: Officials

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(MIAMI) — U.S. authorities in South Florida are stepping up efforts to crackdown on a recent surge in weapons smuggling to Haiti and the Caribbean, according to Homeland Security officials.

An unusual uptick in the number of high-caliber weapons coming out of the U.S. is believed to be connected with spikes in violence driven by transnational criminal organizations.

“It’s been alarming and disturbing to see the spike of violence coincide with a spike in weapons trafficking out of Miami towards Haiti,” Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Miami, told ABC News.

HSI is actively pursuing dozens of open investigations in the region related to smuggling. Officials are hesitant to release exact numbers and specifics to avoid compromising prosecutions.

“We will push these investigations as far as we can,” Salisbury said. “It’s not just the people buying guns, it’s not just the people shipping guns — we will go after and, if we can, prosecute the individuals who are receiving the guns out of these countries. That does include both trying to extradite them back to the United States in some cases and working our foreign offices and our foreign counterparts to help prosecute them down in these countries.”

The enforcement crackdown has been coordinated through multiple federal agencies that are part of specialized teams including Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Department of Commerce.

One area of particular focus is the Miami river, home to one of the most unique ports of entry in the United States due to the distance it spans into the interior of the United States.

The Haitian freighters that dock along the 3-4 mile stretch of river are different than the hyper-organized container ships typically seen at large ports. These smaller vessels that dock along the Miami river are more like giant tugboats. Individual packages are often loaded by hand, making it a prime situation for smuggling.

“We’re not going to tolerate this activity,” Salisbury said. “We’re not going to let South Florida willingly be a launching pad for weapons heading down to these countries.”

Last month marked one year since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse which led to a scourge of gang violence that persists today.

Hurricane season, which runs from June to November in the Caribbean, also threatens to further destabilized the island nation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted an increased likelihood of tropical storms turning into major hurricanes.

ABC News’ Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

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