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6159: Haiti and Cocaine (fwd)

From: JRAuguste1@aol.com



Located Midway Between The U.S. And Colombia, Haiti Has Become A Post Office 
For Coke Dealers

By Tim Padgett

Marnet would rather be a fork-lift driver than a cocaine trafficker. But 
Haiti has a lot more demand for the latter - especially in the northern port 
of Cap-Haitien, where Marnet, 29, watched this fall as his one honest meal 
ticket, the U.S. Army, shipped home the last of its intervention forces. "I 
may have to join my friends and be a welder," he said - not just any welder 
but a narco welder, who refits ships to hide drugs. Marnet walked to a cargo 
vessel, where two large generators powered the torches he said his pals were 
using to solder double hulls and other secret  compartments.  On a matchbox, 
he drew the designs they were following. He then pointed to their nearby 
bosses, who were opening Samsonite suitcases stuffed with cash in full view 
of police on the dock. "The sun is very bright in Haiti,:" Marnet said 
sarcastically. "It makes it hard for the police to see these things."

U.S. politicians can see them from Washington. They just can't do much about 
the situation. When the Americans ousted Haiti's brutal military regime in 
1994, they aimed to bring order and normality to the impoverished Caribbean 
state. U.S. peacekeeping forces restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the 
presidency to which he had been freely elected in 1990. They sank almost $100 
million into Haiti's police and judiciary. But today Haiti is as lawless as 
it is destitute. A breakdown in America's alliance with Aristide, who left 
office in 1996, helped create the kind of power vacuum drug lords love to 
fill. Now, after easily winning the presidency again last week, can Aristide 
do much about the problem?

It may be too late. Haiti, perfectly situated between Colombia and Miami, has 
become the Yankee-proof drug-trafficking nexus the Colombian cartels have 
long dreamed of, a place whose police corruption and judicial void make U.S. 
interdiction efforts all but futile. "There is no institutional [structure] 
there for us to work with," says U.S. Customs Service commissioner Raymond 
Kelly. "Everything is broken."

Drug trafficking is hardly new to Haiti. But in the past few years, say U.S. 
officials, the cocaine cruising through the country has leaped from less than 
5% of the total bound for the U.S. to more than 15% - amounting to almost six 
tons a month. When U.S. forces entered Haiti six years ago, they helped 
create a new civilian police force and coast guard. But the fledgling, 
threadbare agencies are a laugh to the cartels. U.S. officials, citing 
Haitian inspector general reports on officer misconduct, estimate that 85% of 
police supervisors - including four in Cap-Haitien who were recently caught 
with their own bulging satchels of dope cash - are in the pockets of 
traffickers. The Haitian coast guard has made a few impressive busts in 
recent years, but it has fewer than 100 men and about 10 ships - some of the 
best of which are fast Colombian cigarette boats that agents have seized from 

The crisis casts doubt on whether U.S. efforts to build democratic 
institutions in Haiti were serious - or just the latest of Washington's 
half-hearted repair jobs in its own hemisphere. "This sort of reform carries 
a time span of 20 years minimum, not six," says Haitian national police 
director Pierre Denize, who has fewer than 50 drug agents, no radar to detect 
smuggling boats or planes and often stingy intelligence from U.S. agents 
still wary of him and his force. "If the U.S. spent as much on Haitian police 
as it does stopping Haitian boat people, we could build some trust." Says 
prominent business consultant Lionel Delatour: "It looks very unlikely that 
the U.S. will invest enough here to avert disaster."

Washington complains in turn that it is seeing too little return and too much 
dirt on its investment. "No amount of U.S. assistance will restore 
credibility" to Haiti's cops, says Representative Benjamin Gillman, chairman 
of the House International Relations Committee. His views are echoed by the 
nonpartisan U.S. General Accounting Office, which recently concluded that 
"the key factor" in the failure of U.S. antidrug efforts in Haiti has been 
the government's "lack of commitment."

Both the Clinton Administration and U.S. congressional leaders blame 
Aristide. His relations with Washington soured in 1996 when the U.S. insisted 
his first term had expired, even though he had spent most of it in exile. 
(Haitian law prohibits consecutive presidential terms.) Many Western 
diplomats in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, say that was a mistake, since 
Aristide, despite his volatility, could have lent his immense popularity 
among Haitians to the police-building effort. His critics charge that 
Aristide's powerful Fanmi Lavalas Party is gripped by narco pols, which 
Aristide denies. They accuse Dany Toussaint, head of the Haitian Senate's 
public-security committee, of using Lavalas thugs to bully police inspector 
general Luc Eucher Joseph into quitting last April, after he had cited more 
than 1,000 cops for corruption, a charge Toussaint denies. And opposition 
leaders - many of whom, angry over alleged Lavalas-engineered fraud in Senate 
elections last May, boycotted last week's presidential race - decry this 
year's spate of assassinations of corruption critics, notably radio 
commentator Jean Dominique last April. 

Not everyone in the U.S. is ready to write off Haiti as a lost cause. Kelly, 
who once advised Denize's force, is lobbying Congress for more resources. 
"Mr. Denize," the customs commissioner says, "is doing the best he can. It 
will be up to Mr. Aristide now to turn thing around." Denize's cops nabbed a 
Colombian capo last summer. They handed him over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Agency, which lauded the collar as proof of the potential for cooperation. 
"Despite all the pessimistic talk, [Haitian police] will allow us to work 
there," says Sam Meale, the DEA's acting chief in the Caribbean. So, it 
seems, will the Haitian coast guard. 

Still, most of the coke that is shipped out of Haiti gets through to the U.S. 
- about 80%, according to U.S. agents. Over the past year, customs cops in 
the Miami River seized a record 7,200 lbs. of cocaine, most from Haitian 
ships, four times as much as in the previous year. Haiti's imaginative narco 
welders have forced an inspection revolution. Customs teams often spend days 
dismantling keels, engine rooms and even onboard septic tanks and voodoo 
shrines that have yielded as much as 1,100 lbs of coke at a time. "We've 
never seen the Colombians use a vessel's structure this way," says Miami 
customs supervisor Tom Stefanello over the racket of his agent's riveters.

The cash flowing back in the Samsonites is so lavish that money-wiring 
agencies in Port-au-Prince post signs limiting transfers to Colombia to 
$1,000. Haiti, of course, has no money-laundering laws. The money is fueling 
a grossly incongruous boom in luxury-home construction in Port-au-Prince and, 
say locals, paying for a glitzy new shopping center in more impoverished 
Port-de-Paix. The mall was built by Michel Oreste, 70, whom Haitian officials 
describe as a modern-day successor to the buccaneers who once controlled the 
northern coast. Oreste denies involvement in drugs, and while Haitian police 
say they fear that drug money is filtering into his business, he is not 
suspected of drug trafficking. "But I have many friends here involved in that 
business," he says, smiling to reveal a lone lower tooth that juts out like a 
tusk. Is their narco cash invested in his mall? Says Oreste: "My conscience 
is clear."

Poorer Haitians are less subtle. So far, the only troubles Colombian 
traffickers have had in Haiti are the frenzied crowds who sometimes ransack 
their boats and planes upon arrival, hoping to grab some cocaine they can 
sell back in their shanty towns - at cut-rate prices that would give a drug 
lord heart failure. European tourists who recently came ashore in sailboats 
were beaten by mobs because their vessels contained no dope. Diplomats 
already call Haiti a failed state. But scenes like these are earning the 
country the brand of something worse: a narco state.


    Small villages supply cartels with raw coca ready for processing

    Dockyards rebuild boats to hide loads of market-ready coke

    Customs officers in the U.S. have had to invent new ways to find all the 
dope caches

    Customs welders disassemble a coke-filled boat

With reporting by Kathie Klarreich/Port-au-Prince and Massimo