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30803: (news) Holmstead: Drugs and Politics in Haiti (fwd)

FROM: John Holmstead

Drugs and Politics in Haiti
July 24, 2007

HIP - The US Drug Enforcement Agency's recent attempt
to hunt down former policeman, paramilitary commander
and presidential candidate Guy Philippe on drug
charges can be traced back to a recent arrest in the
town of Gonaives, Haiti.

Haitian police and Argentinean units of the UN
arrested Wilfort Ferdinand, alias Ti Wil; on May 26
after he gave a lengthy interview on local radio
station Radio Gonaives FM. Although news of
Ferdinand's arrest received scant attention in the
international press it was one of the top stories
throughout Haiti the following day. Much of the
reporting in the Haitian press focused on the shared
history of Wilfort Ferdinand and Guy Philippe in
leading paramilitary forces that helped to oust the
government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In early February 2004, Wilfort Ferdinand along with
Butteur Metayer, Winter Etienne and Dieujuste Jeanty,
led armed gangs to attack police stations in the
Artibonite region in a bid to oust Aristide's
government. They left a bloody trail in their wake
including the summary execution of Aristide supporters
in the streets of several cities. Their group, called
the Artibonite Resistance Front, later joined with the
small but well-armed paramilitary groups that invaded
Haiti from the Dominican Republic under the leadership
of Guy Philippe and former death squad commander Jodel
Chamblain. Ferdinand and the others quickly claimed
allegiance to Philippe and publicly referred to him as
their "commander-in-chief" in press interviews.

Ferdinand appointed himself Chief of Police of
Gonaives and Winter Etienne became the Chief of the
Gonaives Port Authority, ruling Haiti's fourth largest
city as a personal fiefdom following the ouster of
Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. Philippe shared the podium
with Ferdinand in late March 2004 when US-installed
prime minister Gerard Latortue was flown into Gonaives
by US military helicopters accompanied by Davi d Lee,
Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American
States. During a mock celebration of Aristide's
ouster, Latortue publicly praised the men as
misunderstood "freedom fighters" while ambassador Lee
nodded his head in approval.

During Ferdinand's interview on Radio Gonaives FM and
just before his arrest on May 26, he repeated
assertions he had made days earlier on another radio
station in the capital. He claimed that he was being
pressured by "certain members of the business
community" to take up arms against the current
government of President Rene Preval. He explained that
these were some of the same business leaders that had
financed their paramilitary operations against
Aristide and ended with "I would rather commit suicide
than raise arms against this government."

The day following Ferdinand's arrest, May 27, Guy
Philippe was interviewed on Haitian radio station
Signal FM where he took the accusations a step
further. Without answering the question of pressure to
take up arms against Preval, Philippe began to name
names of business and political leaders who backed the
paramilitary insurgency against Aristide's government
by providing arms, ammunition and logistical support.

Philippe's list included members of what was then
touted as the "peaceful opposition" in Haiti that led
demonstrations in the capital and other cities
demanding Aristide's resignation. High on the list was
Andy Apaid the leader of the civil society
organization called the Group 184.

Apaid had been extensively quoted in the international
media at the time saying their movement was
non-violent and had no connections to the paramilitary
bands. Claire Marshall wrote for the BBC on Feb. 13,
2004, "One of the most prominent opposition platform
spokesmen, Andy Apaid, wanted to make it clear that he
did not approve of violent methods." Marshall
continued, "Andy Apaid invoked the names of Martin
Luther K ing and Mahatma Gandhi, saying that he wanted
to try and lead the opposition in a form of peaceful
protest." Philippe's disclosures exposed Apaid's
duplicity and served to discredit the "peaceful
opposition" movement against Aristide. It also
highlighted the uncritical and favorable reporting
given to it by the BBC and other major news

Philippe's list also included the leadership of
several political parties that were part of a United
States Agency for International Development funded
program in the 90's and who recently ran candidates in
UN-sponsored elections in Haiti. Among others fingered
by Guy Philippe were Evans Paul of KID/Alyans, former
senator Dany Toussaint of the MODEREH, Serges Gilles
of PANPRA (note: FUSION currently) and Himmler Rébu of
the GREH.

On June 1, Haitian police spokesman Frantz Lerebours,
announced that they had discovered a kilo of "a white
substance resembling cocaine" after searching the
residence of Wilfort Ferdinand. On July 16, DEA agents
executed a dramatic raid against Philippe's residence
in the southern coastal town of Les Cayes and he has
been on the run ever since.

"It's a good question of whether Philippe will
actually be arrested," responded a source close to UN
intelligence operations in Haiti who asked not to be
identified. "The other option is that he may end up in
a third country in a quiet exile like Michel
Francois," he said in reference to a former police
chief who led a military coup against Aristide in
1991. Francois was indicted by a Miami Grand Jury in
1997 for drug trafficking and currently resides in
Honduras after that country's Supreme Court refused to
extradite him. The official continued, "It would take
a complete change in current policy for him to be
allowed to remain in Haiti without being arrested. But
stranger things have happened."

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