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#4826: Cocaine furthers setbacks (fwd)
Subject: Article sur Haiti ( Washington Times )
Date: Mer 9 AoŻ 2000 10:33 AM
Cocaine furthers setbacks
By Tom Carter
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Operation Restore Democracy, a 1994 invasion of Haiti by 20,000
American troops, had another key objective to stop the flow of U.S.-bound
cocaine through what was then becoming a premier Caribbean drug hub.
Six years later, drug shipments through Haiti have soared to
unprecedented levels, the latest in a series of setbacks to buffet the
desperately poor nation that has seen U.S. troops depart and its fledgling
democracy wither with a series of fraud-tainted elections.
"Haiti is a narco-state, no different than Panama was under [Manuel]
Noriega, when the state powers, the banks and the police were either
acquiescing or actively participating in narco-trafficking," said one U.S.
official, who asked not to be named.
Haiti's emergence as a major player in the drug trade marks yet another
blemish on the $2-billion-plus invested by the United States on the U.S.
intervention that was once hailed by President Clinton as one of his
administration's greatest foreign-policy achievements.
Now, international observers refuse to recognize the results of recent
parliamentary elections, and, without a functioning democracy, hundreds of
millions of dollars in international aid remains frozen.
Haiti's growing drug trade gives rise to suspicions that cash earned by
helping satisfy America's appetite for cocaine has become a quasi-substitute
for missing foreign aid.
"I've seen no interest anywhere in the Haitian government about getting
the international aid unfrozen," said a foreign diplomat in Haiti during a
discussion on drug profits.
No one compares former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ousted
leader who returned with American GIs six years ago, with Noriega, the
former president of Panama captured in a 1989 U.S. invasion and subsequently
sentenced to 40 years in a Florida prison on drug charges.
U.S. officials say they have no evidence to implicate Mr. Aristide in
the movement of an estimated 7 tons of cocaine each month through Haiti, a
transshipment point midway between Colombia and the United States.
Much of the suspicion instead focuses on Danny Toussaint, a confidant
of Mr. Aristide's who won a Senate seat in May elections. Mr. Toussaint has
long been known to U.S. authorities.
U.S. police arrested him during his 1997 visit to Miami, believing he
had been involved in a series of political assassinations in Haiti.
Released a few days later on a technicality the U.S. intelligence
community declined to share its evidence with the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) throngs of chanting supporters lifted him on
their shoulders when he returned to Port-au-Prince.
Today, Mr. Toussaint leads a classified list, now circulating in the
Clinton administration and on Capitol Hill, of five prominent Haitians
believed involved in drug trafficking.
Others on the five-man list include:
Medard Joseph, a former major in the Haitian army and, like Mr.
Toussaint, a leader of Mr. Aristide security detail. Also like Mr.
Toussaint, Mr. Joseph was elected to Haiti's Senate in May.
Jean-Marie Fourel Celestin, was elected senator as well. Mr. Fourel
Celestin gained notoriety outside Haiti in 1995 when Mr. Aristide nominated
him to be the nation's chief of police. Parliament rejected the nomination,
believing him tainted by drug trafficking and corruption.
Cocaine comes to the southern coast of the impoverished island on a
430-mile trip from Colombia, often by decrepit fishing boats and lately in
It moves through Haiti, either overland on trucks that navigate around
axle-deep potholes, or by planes that readily turn rare strips of good roads
into nighttime runways.
The white powder sealed in plastic either leaves Haiti's north coast,
bound for Miami 600 miles away, or moves through the neighboring Dominican
Republic en route to Puerto Rico.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are especially concerned.
"The drug situation in Haiti continues to get worse," said Sen. Mike
DeWine, Ohio Republican.
Mr. DeWine, who has made numerous trips to Haiti and has been briefed
by U.S. intelligence officials regarding Haiti's drug situation, declined to
discuss names on the list. But his frustration with Haiti's present rulers
"My position for some time has been that we need to bypass the
[Haitian] government," he said.
The present government, led by Mr. Aristide's handpicked successor,
Rene Preval, adamantly denies any involvement in drug trafficking.
Burton Wides, a legal representative in Washington for the Haitian
government, calls the charges "pure bunk."
"So there is a list. Anyone can make a list. But where is the evidence
Show me the evidence," Mr. Wides said.
He added that U.S. hostility toward the three senators dates to their
opposition to the military junta that drove Mr. Aristide into exile in 1991,
a band of rulers that maintained close, if back-channel contacts with
Washington during a particularly brutal three-year rule.
Apart from their suspected involvement in drugs, the three senators
also share something else in common: Even before talk of drug links
surfaced, the U.S. government had banned them from official person-to-person
contact with American diplomats and officials because of their involvement
in human rights violations that included "extrajudicial killings."
Others on the list are accused of facilitating drug smuggling through
corruption looking the other way and taking bribes, U.S. officials said.
The chief of Haiti's national police, Pierre Denize, who makes less
than $20,000 a year, but owns an airline and lives in the air conditioned
comfort of a huge mansion.
Haiti's justice minister, Camille LeBlanc, who is believed to have
profited handsomely since Mr. Aristide's return by freeing Colombian drug
traffickers from Haitian jails.
Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican and chairman of the House
International Relations Committee, expressed his concern by describing Haiti
as "an increasingly repressive and authoritarian narco-state" in remarks
made shortly after the May 21 elections.
While acknowledging that Haiti is awash with drug money and its
attendant corruption, another U.S. official also said there is no evidence
that the "executive branch," or President Rene Preval, is either involved or
condones the situation.
Nor is there any indication that Mr. Preval's mentor, Mr. Aristide, is
involved, the official said. "I do not believe that the next president of
Haiti will be a drug thug," the official said, referring to Mr. Aristide's
anticipated election this December to another term as president. First
elected in 1990, Mr. Aristide handed power to Mr. Preval after elections in
The growing drug trade makes the historic divisions between rich and
poor more pronounced, with new mountain-top mansions being built on the
peaks that tower above the slums of Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Most people
survive on less than a dollar a day.
Yet shiny new gas stations with shotgun-toting guards cater to a
growing lot of polished, new sport utility vehicles.
Apart from building a democracy, one justification President Clinton
gave for dispatching U.S. troops in 1994 was to stem the flow of drugs
Billions of dollars later, Haiti is in a state of "near-anarchy," said
one U.S. academic, who has visited the nation regularly for more than two
"Drugs follow the path of least resistance," added a senior U.S.
defense official. "Haiti presents no obstacles to traffickers. Whether this
is by incompetence or design, I don't know. My sense is that it is a
combination of the two."
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 14 percent of
the cocaine entering the United States last year an estimated 67 tons
passed through Haiti,a 40 percent rise from the previous year.
Dozens of Haitian police and security officials often those who dared
to look into the nation's drug trade have gone into exile, provided they
were not assassinated first.
They include Robert Manuel, secretary of state for public security, who
fled to Guatemala last October. Jean Lamy, who was picked to take his place,
was killed the next day.
Jean Dominique, Haiti's most prominent radio journalist, who had
denounced corruption and drug involvement among Haiti's ruling elite,
specifically naming Mr. Toussaint, was gunned down in front of his radio
station in April.
In the past year, U.S. Customs in Miami confiscated nearly 6,000 pounds
At best, U.S. officials now estimate that just 10 percent of the
cocaine that leaves Haiti fails to make it to the United States.
Ships from Haiti that have been seized by the United States for drug
smuggling and sold at auction have been seized again later for bringing in
still more cocaine.
Haiti lacks any legal constraints against money laundering, which may
explain why the U.S. Customs found more than $1 million in neatly bundled
bills packed in handyman toolboxes bound for Haiti in February.
Just seven U.S. anti-drug officials currently work in Haiti. They help
support the Unified Caribbean On-Line Regional Network (UNICORN), set up by
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to share intelligence with
Caribbean nations, including Haiti, regarding drug targets and money
The United States and Haiti have also joined in several enforcement
operations to seize drugs and improve communications between police in the
In a lengthy statement from the Haitian Embassy to the U.S. Congress in
April, the Haitian government bitterly protested being characterized as a
haven for narcotics trafficking.
Haiti's drug problem existed long before Mr. Aristide was restored to
power six years ago, the embassy statement said.
Haiti said that it is doing what it can cooperating with U.S.
officials and rooting out tainted police but that it lacks the resources,
the police or intelligence information to adequately combat drugs.
Tainted police have been investigated, fired and imprisoned as
appropriate, the embassy said. It adamantly denied any sanctioned collusion.
U.S. officials are not unsympathetic to Haiti's difficulties.
"There is corruption within the police force, but they are trying to
deal with it," said Michael Vigil, the DEA's special agent responsible for
the Caribbean, who is based in Puerto Rico.
Others cite the willingness of Haitian officials to work with the DEA.
"I do not minimize the drug problem in any way," Rep. John Conyers Jr.,
Michigan Democrat, told a recent forum on Haiti sponsored by TransAfrica, a
Washington-based think tank, "but there has been tremendous cooperation
between our two governments."
He pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard has publicly praised the
Haitian government for its cooperation with the United States on drug
"We are a law enforcement agency working in a foreign arena. A lot of
rumors are brought forward," said the DEA's Mr. Vigil.
"We don't have anything concrete on any of these individuals, nothing
we can sink our teeth into," he said when asked about the list of five.
The State Department was equally cautious.
"Certain individuals were brought into the government, and we cannot
work with them, but that was for human rights violations," said the second
The official said that he had heard of drug allegations regarding the
Haitian officials on the list, but that a State Department investigation had
not produced anything "we could take into court."
In April, Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the
Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human
resources, held a hearing on Haiti's drug woes.
"Despite years of U.S. assistance totaling billions, Haiti is now the
major drug transshipment country of the entire Caribbean, funneling huge
shipments of cocaine from Colombia to the United States," Mr. Mica said at
In the April hearing, Mr. Gilman, chairman of the House International
Relations Committee, asked the Clinton administration's special adviser on
Haiti, Donald Steinberg, about Colombian drug links to the Haitian
government. Mr. Gilman even mentioned Mr. Toussaint by name.
Mr. Steinberg declined to discuss individuals publicly, saying instead:
"We, indeed, have identified that a number of individuals who were suspected
of illicit activities are not to have a formal role if the United States is
going to be able to support those activities."
When pressed, Mr. Steinberg offered to go into greater detail in a
One preferred route into the United States is from Haiti, through the
Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic, and on to Puerto Rico.
"Once a shipment of cocaine whether smuggled from Haiti or the
Dominican Republic by maritime, air or commercial cargo reaches Puerto
Rico, it is unlikely to be subjected to further United States Customs
inspections en route to the continental U.S.," said Mr. Vigil.
John Varrone of the U.S. Customs Service told the congressional hearing
that Haitian authorities rarely present an obstacle to drug traffickers.
"The success rate for importations of cocaine to Haiti is virtually 100
percent," Mr. Varrone said. "Those deliveries not successful are due almost
exclusively to mechanical failures of aircraft or vessels and not Haitian
law enforcement activities."
To that, the Haitian government complains that the United States could
do more if it wanted.
"The United States put boats around Haiti and stopped all the boat
people from coming into the United States," said Mr. Wides, Haiti's
"It could stop the drugs if it wanted to," Mr. Wides said, recalling a
period earlier this decade when the Coast Guard captured tens of thousands
of Haitian boat people.