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#5322: Drug traffickers wreak havoc in Haiti (fwd)
Published Monday, October 16, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Drug traffickers wreak havoc in Haiti
Society blames cocaine trade for its downfall BY YVES COLON
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Bernard Louisdhon sits on a dirty mattress that takes
up half the airless room. He rubs his eyes and looks at the light
that filters through the open door. Louisdhon is waking up from the
morning's crack binge. He's a thief who feeds a growing
appetite for the drug with stolen goods. Recently, he fell from a
third-story balcony with a stolen laptop in his hands, and casually
shows the bruises on his side. For the theft, he spent a month locked
up. ``You can get as much drugs as you want here,'' Louisdhon said. ``.
. . The police are dealing. Everybody is a dealer here.''
While Colombian traffickers use Haiti as a trampoline to ship some of
their cocaine to American streets, they're wreaking havoc in Haiti, too.
Break-ins and armed robberies, rare a few years ago, are now common, and
Haitians believe that to be a product of the drug trade. More than 100
police officers suspected of working for drug dealers have been kicked
off the force, raising Haitians' mistrust of the young department.
Many Haitians say the cocaine trade has not only worsened the crime
problem, but has also contributed to the breakdown of Haitian society.
They point to mansions sprouting in the mountains above this city and
gas stations under construction as evidence of illicit gains or money
Researchers found that users, many of them street children addicted to
glue, paint thinner or gasoline, are getting younger. Some graduate to
cocaine, financing their habit by washing cars or stealing. Older ones
become dealers. ``Haitian society is in complete denial,'' said Gaetane
Auguste, executive director of Haiti's only treatment center.
But Haitians should not expect any help from the United States, the
destination for most of the cocaine. The General Accounting Office on
Sept. 19 said $70 million to build a new Haitian police force and $27
million to strengthen the legal system had largely been
wasted. The police were ineffective, corrupt and politicized, the GAO
said, and the legal system was hampered by corruption, government
control, a large case backlog, an outdated legal code, poor facilities
and by the fact that it conducted business in French, instead of Creole,
the country's majority language.
The cocaine to make Louisdhon's crack enters Haiti through hundreds of
miles of unguarded coastline, mostly on the Caribbean Sea. The White
House Office on National Drug Control Policy estimates that more than 65
metric tons of cocaine gets dropped here from go-fast boats or airplanes
before it is repackaged and shipped to the United States through
couriers or on freighters that dock on the Miami River.
``The fight against the criminal element in Haiti goes through the drug
trade,'' said Camille Leblanc, Haiti's minister of justice.
For Louisdhon and his roommate, Richard Miguel, this city is a drug
haven. One of the most active drug bazaars is around the block from
their second-floor cinder-block room, only yards from the presidential
palace and the police department. All they need to satisfy their craving
is a little bit of money. A ``rock'' of crack that would sell for $10 in
the United States goes for $1 here. ``The guys downstairs is a dealer,''
said Louisdhon, eyes vacant, pointing with his chin to a room below the
steps. ``That's why he keeps me here. He makes money from us.''
Justice Minister Leblanc advocates greater U.S. cooperation, saying
that Haiti cannot slow the flood of drugs with 25 agents. More often
than they would like to admit, they have come across officers such as
Patrick Dormevil, who tried to bribe an agent at the airport to let
through 891 pounds of cocaine in March 1998.
Hundreds of other officers have been investigated, fired and
imprisoned. ``We do our share, our part in trying to identify them, kick
them off the force and whenever possible arrest them,'' said Pierre
Denize, Haiti's police chief. Denize said he plans to double to 50 the
number of anti-drug agents. Leblanc holds 50 Colombian traffickers in
jail, some locked up for as long as three years without a trial. For the
first time, Haiti expelled a low-level trafficker last
month wanted by U.S. prosecutors. Leblan said he is setting up a
special jury for drug cases, along with a translator from the Colombian
consulate. ``Haiti is ready to set up the mechanism to bring to trial
all drug traffickers,'' Leblanc said, ``if the U.S. gives us help. Drug
dealers used to drop money to get cases ruled in their favor. They can't
do that anymore. I've exposed judges. We're too small to respond to this
crisis on our own.''
The cocaine that stays in Haiti, reputed to be of high quality, is only
a small part of the trade. Young Haitians who have lived overseas have
only recently begun to experiment with the drugs. Marijuana and cocaine
were rare in Haiti during the 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship, when
the state security apparatus eyed suspiciously any ``rebel'' trends.
During that time, major traffickers such as Colombian Carlos Lehder
used other available routes, primarily the Bahamas, as transshipment
points. As Haiti disbanded its army and the paramilitary Tonton
Macoutes, traffickers with mountains of cash found it easy to make new
friends there. Estimates from the Association Against Alcohol and other
Chemical Dependencies put the number of users at 5 percent of the eight
Joannie is typical of those who find help there. She lived in New York
City for more than 25 years, where she tried marijuana once, and settled
in Haiti about a decade ago to be closer to her older parents. She tried
crack with a boyfriend, then was buying about $50 worth a day, she said.
In six months, she spent her savings of $30,000.
``I blew it, just blew it,'' said Joannie, who asked that her real name
not be used. She hasn't touched the drug in years, she said, although it
would be easy to get it. There is a market in front of her home in the
suburb of Petionville. ``There is a lot of use out there, a lot,'' she
said, speaking of drug users. ``I see them.''
Miguel might be the most carefree of them all. He shrugs off the stain
from having a picture of him smoking a crack pipe published on the
Internet. He works as a lookout for Louisdhon, spends time in jail, gets
out and hustles for money. Getting the drug is the easy part.
``All I need to do is stand here and yell,'' said Miguel, whose mother
lives in Miami. ``Someone will come up. Now you get people who find this
white powder that falls from the sky sometimes and they know that it can
change their lives. They kill for it.''