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#3745: USNews & World Report FWD - Haitian cocaine connection (fwd)


At http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/000529/haiti.htm:

World Report 5/29/00

The cocaine connection
Amid poverty and political disarray, traffickers find Haiti open for business

By Linda Robinson 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI–On May 7, the chief of Haiti's U.S.-trained antidrug 
police force, Armand Jean-Robert, quietly boarded an Air France flight to 
Miami. Not for business or vacation. Jean-Robert fled Haiti after getting 
word that he was suspected of stealing drug money seized last fall in the 
capital's airport and of ripping off another trafficker. U.S. officials are 
now questioning him to see where that trail may lead. This much is known: 
Jean-Robert was one of a dozen police superintendents being investigated by 
the inspector general of Haiti's police. But now the inspector general 
himself has been forced out of his job–transferred last week to a diplomatic 
post, leaving U.S. officials with precious few allies in the Haitian 

It wasn't supposed to work out this way. When 20,000 U.S. troops landed in 
Haiti in 1994 to restore deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and kick 
out a military junta, the Clinton administration hoped to set this 
perennially troubled, deeply impoverished Caribbean nation on the path to 
stability. A scary sequel has unfolded instead: Politicians are being 
murdered, Haitians are more impoverished than ever, and, most ominous of all, 
drug traffickers are taking over the country–with the help of friends in high 

Fourteen percent of the cocaine entering the United States last year passed 
through Haiti, up from 10 percent in 1998, and U.S. Customs in Miami has 
seized nearly 6,000 pounds of cocaine coming from Haiti in the past eight 
months. A U.S. News investigation reveals that traffickers and their allies 
now operate here with near impunity, intimidating or killing anyone who 
stands in their way. "They have very, very high-level contacts," says one 
Haitian official. "I feel like I'm the enemy."

Alerted by rumors of an investigation, some of the suspect police 
superintendents sought help from a powerful figure in Haiti's ruling party, 
Dany Toussaint. According to several U.S. and Haitian officials, Toussaint 
used his political connections to secure protection for the police officers 
and the ouster of the inspector general. U.S. officials think they know why. 
"We suspect that certain individuals associated with Fanmi Lavalas [the 
ruling party] are involved with drugs," says a senior Clinton administration 
official. "In his [Toussaint's] case, it's more than a rumor." Toussaint 
denies allegations that he is involved in drug trafficking.

Burying the truth. Those seen as causing trouble for drug traffickers and 
their friends become targets. The secretary of state for public security fled 
into exile in Guatemala last October, and his presumed successor was shot 
dead the next day. A week later, an assassination attempt was made against 
the chief of the judicial police. And Haiti's most prominent radio 
journalist, who had denounced Toussaint and "the defamation of honest 
officials" in a fiery broadcast, was slain in front of his radio station last 

The scope of Haiti's drug corruption is breathtaking. A U.S. official 
estimates that 90 percent of the police superintendents are tainted. Another 
discouraged official says: "What you have today is total anarchy." Even 
though the Haitian antidrug police are periodically polygraphed, the lure of 
drug money tempts even top police officers. Four police superintendents were 
caught negotiating a cocaine deal in the northern city of Cap Haitien, and 
the officer in charge of the capital's airport was dismissed this month for 
trying to let 900 pounds of the drug slip out undetected. Officials say 
another notorious superintendent in Cap Haitien boasts of the millions he has 

One sign of the drug money flowing into Haiti are dozens of posh homes under 
construction in a gated enclave called Belvil, where a house worth $2 million 
belonging to a trafficker was seized last fall. Inside they found 600 pounds 
of cocaine and $40,000 in cash lying out in the open. Farther up in the cool 
hills above Port-au-Prince, in an area called Vivi Michel, one of the 
ostentatious homes with arched windows and wrought-iron balconies belongs to 
Jacques Ketant, who has been indicted in Miami on drug charges. He was 
spotted at his discothèque, Jumballa, just down the road late last year. But 
reputed traffickers have little to fear since Haiti has no extradition treaty 
with the United States.

The wealth spawned by drugs contrasts sharply with the searing poverty in 
Haiti, where the per capita income is just $360 a year. Half of all children 
under age 5 are malnourished, although U.S. aid programs feed a half-million 
children a day. The capital city has no working traffic lights, and main 
streets are deeply cratered with potholes. The only thriving businesses 
appear to be cellular phone companies, since the state-owned telephone 
utility cannot even repair existing lines, and car dealerships doing a brisk 
trade in sport utility vehicles. "As the roads get worse, the rich just buy 
bigger SUVs," says a Haitian teacher. 

Political bickering has paralyzed the government and stalled $600 million in 
international aid. Elections for Parliament, which was dissolved 17 months 
ago, were finally being held this week. Lavalas leader Aristide is expected 
to be re-elected president this fall, partly on the strength of armed thugs 
who intimidate his critics.

Booty. Amid the chaos, the drug trade flourishes. Officials say more than 
5,000 Colombians have entered Haiti in the past six months to arrange drug 
shipments or pick up drug money funneled here from the United States. U.S. 
Customs found $1 million packed in red Craftsman toolboxes aboard a freighter 
just as it was leaving Miami for Haiti in March, and an additional $4 million 
has been seized at the Port-au-Prince airport. One man carried $1 million 
stuffed in a carry-on satchel, and $1.6 million more was found divided among 
11 passengers headed to Panama, some of it hidden in a child's roll-on 

Haiti's location midway between Colombia and the United States makes it an 
ideal way station for drugs. "Haiti is the most critical spot in the 
Caribbean right now," says Michael Vigil, the U.S. DEA official in charge of 
the region. "Colombian traffickers are going in with all they've got–fast 
boats, cargo vessels, and twin-engine planes." U.S. radar detects an average 
of two drug flights a week into Haiti. The whir of small planes can be heard 
after dark around Port-au-Prince, and last December three drug planes crashed 
at night while attempting to land on a rocky dirt road just outside the 
capital. The maritime traffic is even greater. After 3,000 pounds of cocaine 
were found ingeniously secreted in the keels of Haitian freighters docked in 
Miami in February, a dozen other freighters either turned around or stayed 
put in Haiti. 

To make up for Haiti's small, weak police force, the DEA has mounted joint 
operations with two dozen Caribbean Basin countries and set up a high-tech 
network called UNICORN (Unified Caribbean On-Line Regional Network) that 
enables their police to share tips and photos. Despite the daunting odds, 
Vigil insists that the only option is to try harder. "If we don't take an 
aggressive stand," he says, "Haiti will become a major satellite for 
Colombian and Dominican trafficking organizations." If it isn't already.