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#3308: Haiti taking on a burgeoning role in cocaine trade (fwd)
Published Thursday, April 20, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haiti taking on a burgeoning role in cocaine trade
Troubled island used as transit site for South American drugs
BY DON BOHNING Herald Staff Writer
The cries of concern are becoming louder and more frequent over Haiti's
growing role as a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine entering the
United States, but U.S. officials acknowledge the solution is as elusive
as ever. The increased focus on Haiti as a drug transit outpost comes at
a time of increasing political turmoil and economic despair as the
Caribbean country heads toward long-awaited parliamentary and
presidential elections. The U.S. government estimates 67 tons, or 14
percent, of all cocaine destined for the United States from South
America came through Haiti in 1999, up from 54 tons, or 10 percent, in
At the same time, a U.S. government report notes, Haitian police seized
only 430 kilograms of cocaine in 1999, less than a third of the amount
seized the year before. ``This decline in seizures may be due in part to
a shift by Colombian traffickers from maritime drug shipments to
airdrops,'' adds the report. ``The latter are effectively beyond the
reach of Haitian law enforcement units.'' The apparent surge also came
as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has beefed up its presence
in Haiti, from only temporary personnel to eight permanent people in
1999. The problem was dramatized in early February when U.S. Customs
seized more than 3,400 pounds of cocaine from five vessels arriving in
Miami from Haiti. Haiti ``is descending into frightening depths of drug
corruption and violence,'' Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the
House International Relations Committee, told a congressional hearing
last week. ``In fact,'' added Gilman, ``Haiti is becoming a
narco-state.'' While not necessarily agreeing with Gilman's
characterization, U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey, in a meeting this week
with The Herald's editorial board, called the situation in Haiti ``
awful . . . I don't know what to do about it.''
``It's bad now and getting worse,'' Rep. Porter Goss, a Florida
Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a
telephone interview. The drug trade, Goss said, is ``destabilizing . . .
in terms of any hope for democratic processes in Haiti.''
For the second straight year, Haiti received a ``conditional''
certification -- essentially a waiver -- in the State Department's
annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report assessing the
cooperation of 28 major drug-producing and drug-transitting countries.
``Haiti's weak democratic institutions, fledgling police force and
eroding infrastructure provide South American-based narcotics
traffickers with a path of very little resistance,'' the report said.
Sources in Haiti familiar with the drug trade there question whether
the transit problem is getting worse or it is ``just now getting light
shone on it'' as a result of the February seizures in Miami that
``really perked people up.'' They also note that the nature of the
transit problem in Haiti is changing from so-called go-fast boats from
Colombia bringing cocaine to the country's southern peninsula to
single-engine planes ferrying it to the north of Haiti. From there it is
shipped by freighter to the United States, with Cap-Haitien and
Fort-Liberte the north coast departure ports of choice. Even the nature
of the air transport has changed, the sources say, from airdrops
in the water to nighttime landings at remote Haitian airstrips. In
December, three small planes believed to be carrying drugs crashed in
the country; a fourth was seized in January. Cocaine planes taking off
from Colombia en route to Haiti are benefiting from Venezuela's refusal
to allow U.S. drug surveillance planes to use its airspace, U.S.
officials say. ``As a result, we believe that drug smugglers are now
using Venezuelan airspace to thwart law enforcement . . . , '' John
Varone, a high-ranking Customs official, told a House subcommittee
hearing last week.
Varone noted that ``many factors have converged in recent years to make
Haiti `the path of least resistance' in the Caribbean for drug
smugglers. Record quantities of cocaine are being smuggled there.''
Varone cited, among other things, Haiti's location, its ``tenuous
political situation . . . lack of law enforcement infrastructure and/or
marine enforcement capabilities and the corrupting influence of drug
trafficking,'' which has allowed drug smugglers to ``operate there with
impunity.'' Pierre Denize, chief of Haiti's fledgling police force,
acknowledged in a recent interview that the drug problem in Haiti ``is
very serious in terms of volume and also in terms of impact. It carries
its own brand of violence and brings with it arms trafficking and in
general organized crime sectors that benefit from it.''