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#3652: Haiti Emerges as Formidable Force in Drug Trafficking... (fwd)


New Battlefield ___Haiti Emerges as Formidable Force in Drug Trafficking
By Deborah Amos May 16 2000

May 16 2000 ABC NEWS___— There is a newcomer for the United States to
contend with in the increasingly difficult war against the illegal drug
trade. Ever since  U.S. and United Nations troops withdrew from Haiti in
January, the amount of drugs flowing through that nation has increased
dramatically.Specifically, 14 percent of all cocaine and heroin       
coming into the U.S. now passes through Haiti. The cocaine flow in the
Caribbean has increased approximately 60 percent in the last three
years, and the flow in Haiti has increased about 50 percent.A large
majority of these drugs are destined for Miami, smuggled aboard Haitian
cargo ships, thereby making the Miami River the newest gateway for    
Haitian drug traffickers. So far this year, law enforcement officials
have seized three times the amount of cocaine than they did throughout
all of 1999. The methods for smuggling drugs are both impressive and
elaborate. Last week, for example, agents found 167 pounds of cocaine in
a Haitian freighter that appeared to be empty when it arrived in        
Miami. In February, customs agents hauled five  freighters out of the
water after an informant told them where to search. They found $25
million worth of cocaine stashed in secret compartments four floors   
below deck, covered by fuel oil and thick sludge. This is the most
popular method for trafficking drugs into the U.S., as these ships often
go unnoticed in the busy port of Miami.

 Partners in Crime

“What we are seeing now is that they are getting progressively more
sophisticated,” says Frank Figueroa, Custom’s Special Agent in Charge.
“They have in fact joined forces with the Colombians, and I  think some
of that is showing.”  Colombian drug traffickers have moved into Haiti
for several reasons. They have always needed bases close to the U.S. to
unload large quantities of cocaine, and Haiti is perfectly situated
between the U.S. and  Colombia. Haiti is ideal because the poorly
trained and poorly equipped police force is powerless to stop the
large and constant shipments of drugs. Colombian traffickers generally
use three primary routes for smuggling cocaine to Haiti: airdrop the   
drugs at sea; ship them commercially from source countries such as
Panama and Venezuela; and ship them in coastal and fishing vessels.   
“If you bring drugs from Colombia to Haiti by boat or by air, you have
virtually a 100 percent chance of getting them to Haiti,” says Customs
Commissioner Ray Kelly. “And from there it’s just a short trip to get  
them into Puerto Rico and then into the United States. 

Difficult to Enforce

Recently, a U.S. surveillance plane tracked one of the trafficker’s
aircraft from Colombia to the Haitian coast.Once it reached the coast,
U.S. agents recorded the drug drop, three bundles from the trafficker’s
plane to  a waiting car on the ground. But, when Customs agents radioed
the Haitian police, they made no arrests. The drug drop was eight hours
from the Haitian capital, and police said they had no way to get      
there before smugglers picked up the drugs. To make matters worse,
several Haitian banks now launder millions of dollars a week in drug
profits,placing the country in a dangerous new league. “There is so much
money, there is so much potential for corruption, it becomes
self-perpetuating,”says Mike Wald of the South Florida Task Force. “Too
many people have a vested interest in keeping it the way it is.”And it
may stay that way. Along the Miami River,New Battlefield