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#3651: Haiti Labeled As Drug State (fwd)


Tuesday May 16 1:53 PM ET 
 Haiti Labeled As Drug State By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press Writer 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Mysterious planes land on deserted
highways in the dead of night. Gleaming gas stations sprout in a country
where one in 70 people owns a car. Majestic mansions rise, turrets
looming eerily over sad slums. Signs of drug money are growing in Haiti,
one of the world's poorest nations - supporting contentions by U.S.
 officials that the Caribbean island has become a major conduit for
smuggling narcotics into the United States. Increasingly, ill-gotten
profits are staying in the cash-starved nation, fueling accusations that
local authorities are tainted and toughening the challenge for U.S.
anti-drug enforcers trying to slow the drug flow. Haiti accounts for 14
percent of all cocaine entering the United States and ``is now the major
drug transshipment country of the entire Caribbean,'' said Rep. John L.
Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
Drug Policy and Human Resources.With feeble local enforcement and a
central location, Haiti is an ideal crossroads. It is just eight hours
by speedboat from Colombia, the main cocaine producer, and an         
eight-hour journey from the United States.Drugs flow through other
Caribbean points as well, especially the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
But with the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy in charge of policing that
 island's shores, and with better organized and equipped authorities in
the Dominican Republic and Jamaica trying hard to seal off their
territory, international attention increasingly is focusing on Haiti.
 In January, U.S. Army Secretary Louis Caldera flew to Port-au-Prince to
urge President Rene Preval to take tough measures to fight drug
traffickers. Special Agent Michael S. Vigil, Caribbean chief for the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told a congressional committee in
April that ``Haiti's weak democratic institutions (and) eroding
infrastructure provide South America-based narcotics traffickers with a
path of very little resistance.'' Some 75 tons of cocaine moved through
Haiti in 1999, according to the most recent State Department annual
 narcotics report. That's a 24 percent increase over 1998 and at least
double the annual amount under the 1991-1994 military dictatorship that
monopolized the local drug trade and first opened Haiti's sea and
airports to Colombian traffickers. That dictatorship was ousted by a
U.S.-led invasion in 1994 that restored Haiti's first democratically
elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Results for Haitian democracy
have been mixed: elections this year have been repeatedly postponed amid
unrest and killings. And many say the country, though freer, is more
open than ever to the drug trade. ``Haiti is on its way to becoming a
narco-state,'' said Ivelaw Griffiths, a political science professor at
the University of Florida at Gainesville, and author of ``Drugs and
Security in the Caribbean.'' The evidence cited for drug money
investments includes gas stations and other new businesses sprouting up
in a stagnant economy. Also suspicious are many of the dozens of
mansions being built in gated communities on hillsides overlooking the
capital, says Gerard Pierre-Charles, head of Haiti's biggest opposition
party. Haiti is used to transport drug profits for Colombian and
Dominican smugglers to New York, DEA officials say. But Haitians also
are organizing their own smuggling forces, buying their own drugs and
laundering the profits at home, say the officials, who spoke on
condition of anonymity. Congressional committees have heard evidence of
drug planes tracked into Haiti. Two witnesses, speaking on
 condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press they saw planes land
and take off at night on the main highway north of the capital, in
apparently drug-related activities. Many loads are dropped in bales from
aircraft to Haitian villagers and fishermen at sea. Some is then trucked
to the Dominican Republic, across a porous border, for further shipping.
Some goes straight to Miami. Entire villages are said to profit. In
March, a French family on a sailboat anchored off Haiti's southern
peninsula was attacked by villagers yelling, ``Drugs, drugs.'' They
forced the boat to shore and, finding no drugs, furiously
 set it ablaze. The Clinton administration has been ambivalent about
withholding foreign aid as leverage. Haiti was recently decertified for
not cooperating in the drug fight, then granted a waiver because
``assistance to illicit traffickers of drugs and migrants'' would
increase with greater impoverishment. Most DEA activity here focuses on
helping Haitian officials seize money at Port-au-Prince's airport, with
$4 million seized in nine months, says Vigil, the DEA's Caribbean chief.
What slips through is taken by couriers into Panama, and some to the
Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, he said. The drug issue is mixed up
in Haiti's bitter, inscrutable politics. Opposition politicians and some
foreign observers accuse cronies of Aristide - whose Lavalas Party still
dominates, and who is himself expected to run again for president this
year - of involvement in drugs. Paul Cozigon, Caribbean specialist for
France's governing Socialist Party, said recently that Lavalas ``began
in the scent of liberation theology and is ending amid the stench of
assassinations, arson, corruption and drugs.'' Aristide refused requests
for an interview. But Lavalas spokesman Yvon Neptune, a Senate
candidate, dismissed the criticism as ``political propaganda.''
 In Haiti's defense, Burt Wides, a U.S. attorney representing Haiti's
government, told a congressional committee in March that in 1998, more
than 100 police officers were fired on suspicion of drug activity.
 Despite corruption among police and other law enforcement officials,
Wides contended, it was unfair to conclude that Haiti's top officials
are ignoring the problem or themselves corrupted. However, critics note
that none of the dismissed officers have been prosecuted. While dozens
of drug-trafficking suspects were arrested last year, not one was
convicted, the U.S. State Department says. Many were quietly freed from
prison, often by government officials, judges and police officers,
according to Haitian government reports. ``Under the military, the drug
trade at least was clandestine. Now it's right in your face,'' said
opposition leader