[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
#4882: Haiti expels its first drug trafficker (fwd)
Published Tuesday, August 15, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haiti expels its first drug trafficker____ Colombian wanted in U.S.
By YVES COLON Herald Staff Writer
For the first time, the Haitian government has expelled a Colombian
trafficker wanted on drug-related charges in the United States -- an
apparent effort to diminish the blemish on Haiti as a major player in
the drug trade. Instead of going through a lengthy extradition
process, Haitian officials instead placed Carlos Botero Asprilla on a
plane to Miami, where agents from the U.S. Marshal's Service picked him
up Aug. 9 for violating parole from a previous drug trafficking
conviction in this country. Asprilla, a high-level member of the ``Coneo
Rios'' organization that has been operating in Haiti for years, is being
held in the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami. Federal court
records show Asprilla is 60 years old. He had been in a Haitian jail
since being caught a few weeks ago on a boat carrying 147 kilos of
cocaine from Colombia to Haiti. ``The message it's going to send is that
Colombian traffickers like Mr. Asprilla are not going to be able to use
Haiti to hide from us,'' said Michael Vigil, the Drug Enforcement
Administration's special agent responsible for the Caribbean, who is
based in Puerto Rico. ``This is going to be a tremendous benefit to our
effort to combat drug trafficking, especially if we can continue to
expel those Colombians from Haiti that are wanted in the U.S.''
Pierre Denizé, head of the Haitian National Police, said Asprilla's
expulsion should make Colombian drug traffickers feel less at ease in
Haiti. ``They should get the point that this is is not a free-operating
country here,'' Denizé said. In the past six years, drug shipments
through Haiti have soared to unprecedented levels, giving rise to
suspicions that Haitian officials are involved in the business
and using drug proceeds to replace the foreign aid that was cut off
after President Réne Préval shut down parliament in January 1999.
Suspicion of collusion between Colombian traffickers and Haitians
centers on corrupt police officers, hundreds of whom have been
investigated, fired and imprisoned. U.S. officials have alleged that
several high-level officials -- including Denizé and Justice Minister
Camille Leblanc -- are either facilitating the drug smuggling or, at
least, looking the other way.
One U.S. official who has worked closely on the issue speculated that
the Haitian government might be using Asprilla as a sacrificial lamb.
``It's one positive thing they did to try to get their feet off the
fire,'' said the official, who declined to be named. ``The fact remains
that the Haitian government has not fully cooperated with the U.S. We
believe the Haitian government has not given the counter-narcotics issue
the interest and the priority it should be given.'' Vigil acknowledged
those allegations, but said there is no ``concrete'' evidence to
link the Haitian officials to drug trafficking. Denizé denied
involvement, saying, ``at one point you have to wonder whether it's
not politically motivated'' to embarrass the administration of Préval
or his likely successor, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
According to the DEA, 14 percent of the cocaine entering the United
States last year -- about 67 tons -- passed through Haiti, a 40 percent
rise from the previous year. The drug gets to Haiti on go-fast boats,
then gets shipped to the United States either through the Dominican
Republic or on freighters heading to Florida. On the return voyage,
those boats carry cash that gets filtered to off-shore accounts in
Panama or elsewhere throughout the Caribbean. Last year, Vigil said,
DEA agents assisting the Haitian police force arrested 124 individuals
and confiscated 643 kilos of cocaine and $4 million in cash from
couriers leaving Haiti's international airport.
In the past year, U.S. Customs in Miami confiscated nearly 6,000 pounds
of cocaine from ships doing traffic between Haiti and the Miami River.
Vigil cited Asprilla's expulsion as example of the willingness of
Haitian police to work with the DEA, which has seven U.S. anti-drug
officials in Haiti who support the Unified Caribbean On-Line Regional
Network, set up to share intelligence with Caribbean nations regarding
drug targets and money laundering. The order to expel Asprilla was
signed by Leblanc and carried out by Denizé, he said. ``I understand the
impediments we have to deal with in Haiti,'' Vigil said. ``However,
there are things we can accomplish there.'' Vigil said he and Denizé
discussed expelling drug traffickers wanted by the United States to be
tried in this country. Denizé told him to find a test case. Asprilla was
tagged as the perfect candidate. ``Colombians are starting to move in
Haiti and deeply imbed their roots,'' Vigil said. ``They're building
mansions, residences from which they can direct their loads.'' The work
of combating drug trafficking in Haiti is expected to become much
harder, as U.S. officials announced last week that they were shutting
down two training programs for the Haitian police and the justice
system. Haiti's counter-narcotics squad has only 25 officers. ``It's
like patrolling New York City with two squad cars,'' Vigil said.
U.S. officials said the Haitians had two years to improve their
counter-narcotics efforts, but failed to do so. In addition to arresting
more Colombian traffickers in Haiti, they need to come up with a
drug-control strategy and sign a U.S.-Haiti maritime bilateral
agreement, a U.S. official said. ``Those are the types of things we need
to see to clearly say they're doing something,'' the official said.
Nonetheless, Denizé said he plans to add 20 more officers to his squad.
However, he acknowledged that Washington's decision to cut off training
will send a negative message to his department, and impact the
effectiveness of his 4-year-old department. ``Of course it's going to
hinder our efforts,'' he said. ``But we're just going to keep on doing
what we've been doing.''