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7233: US Caribbean drugs report (mention of Haiti) (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Angus MacSwan

     MIAMI, March 4 (Reuters) - Cocaine and other illegal drugs are flowing
through Caribbean islands on the way to the United States and Europe, with
smugglers switching routes to keep one jump ahead of drug fighters,
according a U.S. government report.
     While the bulk of drugs shipped to the United States moves through
Mexico -- a situation depicted in the hit movie "Traffic" -- the Caribbean
trade is also flourishing.
     "When enforcement in the Central American isthmus threatens to disrupt
U.S.-bound drugs, the Caribbean's importance increases as a transshipment
area," said the State Department's annual report on the illegal trade,
released last week.
     Jamaica has emerged as a new main hub, while the Dominican Republic is
the "command and control center" of many operations, the report said. The
Caribbean is also a key route for drugs going from Latin America to Europe,
which has a growing appetite for cocaine.
     The supply is moved in a variety of ways. Cruise ships, airliners,
fishing vessels and speedboats, freighters, and airdrops are all used, the
report said.
     And the offshore banking industries that thrive in many of the small
island nations are key to the laundering of drug traffickers' cash.
     "Drug trafficking and the crimes that derive from it -- money
laundering, drug use, political influence buying, violent crime and
intimidation -- threaten the stability of the small independent countries
of the eastern Caribbean," the report said.
     The United States estimated that 12 per cent of the cocaine detected
heading to it from South America moved through the Jamaica-Cuba-Bahamas
     The cocaine flow through Jamaica, which is already the region's
leading marijuana producer, quadrupled during the first half of last year
to an estimated 36 metric tons, the report said. Yet less was seized than
during the previous year.
     More passengers from Jamaica were arrested at U.S. airports on
smuggling charges than passengers from any other place, according to the
U.S. Customs Service.
     Drugs usually moved on to the Bahamas by speedboat. With 700 islands
scattered over an area the size of California, the Bahamas are particularly
attractive to Colombian gangs despite U.S.-Bahamian interdiction efforts by
military and other personnel.
     Drug fighters said about a dozen major Bahamian operations worked in
league with Jamaican cartels. As result, the nation is growing more
violent, according to the report, which said that cocaine seizures in 2000
were up 50 per cent.
     The U.S. Embassy estimated that smuggling could have resulted in
foreign exchange flows of $200 million to $300 million annually and rivaled
the Bahamas' banking industry.
     Communist-ruled Cuba -- officially an enemy of the United States --
has become a partner in the war against drugs, however. A U.S. Coast Guard
officer is now posted at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, and sharing
of information and communications on suspect vessels and aircraft has
improved, the report said.
     It said that Cuba was not a big transit point but that increased
European tourism meant it could become a staging point for drugs headed for
     Haiti -- a major headache for U.S. drug fighters in recent years --
has seen a drop in activity, the report said. The impoverished,
corruption-ridden nation had been a main transshipment point, but
traffickers had shifted away from it somewhat, it said.
     But this was not because of government efforts, it went on, citing
seizures on Haitian freighters reaching Miami, gang rivalry and decrepit
infrastructure, which made moving drugs difficult. Air shipments dropped
significantly after several crashes on makeshift runways, it added.
     Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic,
was described as a "command and control center." Criminal gangs of
Colombians, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans were said to be operating in Santo
Domingo, New York and the Northeast United States.
     Many shipments were coordinated in the Dominican Republic but did not
actually pass through there, it noted.
     In the eastern Caribbean, some island nations have been infiltrated by
Colombian drug traffickers, who have contracted local criminal gangs, the
State Department found.
     Grenada and St. Lucia reported increased cocaine shipments, while
Barbados was a hub for cocaine, heroin and marijuana shipments to Europe
and United States, it said.
     The Dutch islands were described as a transit point for cocaine and
increasing amounts of heroin, with so many mules, or carriers on commercial
flights to Europe, being arrested in Curacao that its jails were filled.
     In general, across the Caribbean, governments co-operated more with
the United States than previously, but legislation was still in need of
reform, the report said. Particularly criticized was action taken against
small players while kingpins carried on unscathed.
     On the money-laundering front, the Cayman Islands and some other
offshore centers were praised for tightening legislation to clean up their
financial sectors. Other islands were the target of an intense
international campaign spearheaded by a G7 Financial Action Task Force that
brought some results but remains controversial.