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8321: Haitis business is drugs (fwd)
From: JoAnn Jaffe <email@example.com>
Le Monde diplomatique
NO TOURISTS, NO AID, NO GOVERNMENT
Haitis business is drugs
The international community froze all loans to Haiti in 1997 because
of the countrys political turmoil. This May President Mejía of the
neighbouring Dominican Republic appealed for aid to be resumed since
its discontinuation is affecting not only Haiti but the whole region.
As the political vacuum grows, the mafia is expanding to fill it: the
traffic in drugs has increased more than threefold in the space of
four years, adding to Haitis already disastrous image.
by our special correspondent CHRISTOPHE WARGNY *
Gallimards new, lavishly illustrated guide to Haiti (1) paints an
enticing picture of the pearl of the Caribbean, as it was called in
the 17th century. But when you arrive theres not a tourist to be
seen: just a few transient expats. The island has never been in
such bad shape socially and economically, never had a worse
political image in the outside world: widespread poverty, neglect,
desertion, dilapidation, shipwreck, collapse, calvary, chaos,
apocalypse. The press runs the gamut of metaphors, biblical and
non-biblical. After 15 years of transition to democracy and
international dithering, some people are even beginning to look
back with nostalgia to the good old days of Jean-Claude Duvalier
and his puppet government.
The ruling class has a splendid, almost unrivalled history of
irresponsibility a year and a half (June 1997-December 1998) with
no government, a year and a half (January 1999-May 2000) with no
parliament, followed by a year of elections and recriminations.
Meeting the principal actors, especially those rejected at the
polls, many of them from the best international schools, one is
astonished by the unconscious contempt for the most deprived people
in the Americas. Insecurity is growing, hand in hand with the
erosion of freedom. The army was officially abolished by President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995 but now the opposition, a small and
ill-assorted band popular with the diplomatic community, is calling
for it to be reinstated.
The elections on 21 May last year, designed to restore all the
countrys institutions, were highly questionable as to form, but
indisputable as to content: an overwhelming victory for Aristides
party, the Lavalas Family. Paradoxically it has accelerated the
countrys decline and accentuated its isolation. International aid
has been largely suspended for the past four years and is sorely
missed. It was equivalent to the countrys entire budget, which is
only just enough to pay state employees, late, and raise the 20%
required to service the national debt, on time.
So much for the first of the three pillars supporting of the
top-down, essentially informal Haitian economy, which exports five
times as much as it imports. All that now remains of international
aid is a vital but unsupervised contribution from the
non-governmental organisations. There are more than 250 of them in
the country, and a string of American organisations, offshoots of
religious cults, sometimes keener to recruit new members than help
The second pillar, the diaspora, contributes even more to the
subsistence economy. The two million Haitians in New York, Miami,
Montreal and the West Indies produce close on $1bn, three times the
state budget. At the same time the success of this community
encourages the exodus of boat people and the brain drain.
The third pillar is drugs. The island is neither a producer nor a
consumer, yet a sixth of the cocaine entering the United States,
mainly via Florida, comes from Haiti. According to the Drug
Enforcement Administration, the figures for 2000 were a record,
higher than those notched up under the military junta between 1991
and 1994. The latest US State Department report estimated that 67
tonnes of cocaine from South America passed through Haiti in 1999,
compared with an estimated 54 tonnes in 1998, in other words 15% of
all the cocaine entering the US (2). The amounts intercepted are
minute. Haiti is becoming one of the safest trade routes.
Godsend for the traffickers
It is in the ideal position, midway between Colombia and Florida,
with 1,500 km of coastline, its airspace free of surveillance. It
is also an absolutely typical rudderless state, riddled with
corruption and dirt cheap a failed state, a state with no future,
according to Clintons Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, only
too eager to leave it to its fate. It is a godsend for the
Colombian drug traffickers comfortably installed in the luxurious
El Rancho hotel in Pétionville, a smart residential suburb of
Port-au-Prince, a hotel that doesnt seem to belong in Haiti, the
only one where the staff speak Spanish.
The cocaine comes in from more or less everywhere, in fast launches
or light aircraft, and not always on the quiet. Thus last October a
Colombian plane carrying 400 kilos of cocaine landed on a lightly
marked runway in the extreme northwest of the island, near the Môle
Saint-Nicolas. It was destined for the local police, who were
standing by to pick it up. Intentional or unintentional? The local
people got to know and claimed their share. As they had elsewhere,
in Grande Anse or near Les Cayes, a little earlier on. It is almost
becoming a habit. The police do not want to share goods that are
simply in transit. The peasants set up barricades, capture the
police pick-up and, of course, make off with the drugs. Fearing the
worst, the stout constabulary take to their heels. The pilot flees
and the plane is torched. A few days later, anti-riot police and
civilians from Port-au-Prince, not Colombia, arrive to recover what
they can as best they can, by negotiation or force.
The shipment leaves a few signs of added wealth to mark its brief
transit. Either by paying a percentage, or by private carriage to
Port-au-Prince, by boat, concealed in cargoes of charcoal. Beats
sowing seed on stony ground. The chief of police, Pierre Denizé,
could have despatched some of the 40 men from his special
anti-drugs squad. But he didnt. Trained by the UN after the army
was disbanded, most of the police are hand in glove with the mafia.
If you are posted to Miragoâne, a little port that thrives on
smuggling of every kind, why should you keep your eyes peeled for
$300 a month when you can get 10 times as much for keeping them
shut? And build yourself a big house and have plenty of servants,
your own generator and four-wheel-drive.
Except in the capital, where the people suffer badly from the
prevailing insecurity, their attitude is ambiguous. In Miragoâne,
the illicit trade creates a certain number of jobs in transport,
doctoring the goods, producing false papers, etc. and keeps the
black market supplied. In Cap Haïtien, there are cache specialists
who can fool US customs investigators.
Disillusion in the ranks
The bitterest pill for the international community is that it
trained the police in question. The force was originally
6,000-strong but there are now fewer than 3,000. A few were
previously dismissed on charges of corruption under René Prévals
presidency but many were recruited from the ranks of the disbanded
army and were consequently well used to embezzlement and dirty work
of all kinds. The result was that many good men left. The cohort
trained at Regina in Canada a hundred or so officers, a third of
them Haitian Canadians just fell apart when they came face to face
with the realities on the ground, weak government, closed political
ranks and a pernicious judicial system. Crazy orders to do nothing
when we are called out; extortion of those we arrest; transfers for
no apparent reason; paid surveillance of private houses. The
opposite of all we had been taught. I was ashamed, says Gérard, one
of the latest to resign.
There is not one policemen on the beat, and just a few to be found
in the police stations. A third of the force is posted to special
elite units answerable to the presidents office. They continue to
draw their pay while working for one of the many private police
agencies. A regular police uniform may be a rare sight in
Port-au-Prince but there are crowds of armed militia on the
streets, in banks and standing guard over the big up-market houses.
Every little supermarket has its own man with an Uzi on his hip.
The fact is that service stations, supermarkets, banks,
import-export companies and above all luxury houses and
four-wheel-drives are on the increase. A small fraction of the
drugs money is invested in the island but most it finds its way to
safe countries, particularly the US, and the banks are fairly lax
about enforcing the law that imposes limits on cash transactions.
Arrogant Pétionville is full of easy money but little gets into the
pockets of the local shopkeepers or domestic servants. There is,
however, a boom in the building trade.
The massive UN presence after 1994 helped to diminish Haitis role
as a hub of the cocaine trade. But the police training scheme was
not accompanied by any decisive improvements in the system of
justice or by the promised economic boom. Dealers never stay in
prison for long. Who could resist the pressure of the narcos, the
big families, the corrupt sections of the state machine? The
entanglements of Senator Dany Toussaint of the Lavalas Family are
just coming to light, wanted for drug trafficking by the US Justice
Department and accessory to murder in Haiti. Through a section of
the police force, drugs also affect other members of the
The jobs they create, the sums at stake (even locally), the links
with other forms of smuggling, the unexpected involvement of local
people, the money laundering, the indirect funding of a section of
political life, the expansion of building for the wealthy middle
class, all combine to make drugs an important factor in local
economic life. Probably more lucrative than the export of works of
art to meet worldwide demand or products assembled in the vicinity
of the port, where the few businessmen have to keep sniffer dogs to
prevent unwanted extra cargo being loaded into their containers.
The vast development programme announced for 2004, the bicentenary
of independence, is at present facing international sanctions.
Without massive support for development, including a complete
overhaul of the machinery of state, how can Haiti possibly afford
to turn down the undisclosable dividends of the drugs trade?
Port-au-Prince has so little to recommend it to the powerful
neighbour that regards it with such contempt: nothing but drugs,
boat people and maybe solidarity with its own black community.
A treaty agreed by former President Préval in 1997 gives US special
forces full rights to act in Haitian territorial waters and
airspace with no restrictions. But the US coast guards are much
more zealous about catching the boat people in their wheezy old
craft than chasing the speed boats from Colombia. The CIA has
agents in the police force, itself partly trained in the US. A
specially trained local unit is stationed on the Dominican border
but this does not stop the flow of migrants from Haiti 100 to 200 a
day or the shipments of snow from Haitian to Dominican ports.
Haiti did not get its annual certificate of good conduct from the
US government last year. It does not actually appear on the list of
narco-states. However, the new Republican administration, which was
against the action to restore President Aristide in 1994 and has
little interest in development, might well take that step. What,
after all, is Haiti if not a convenient scapegoat to distract
attention from the inconsistency of the US as it conducts a war on
drugs and simultaneously presses on with its programme of
This is all the more reason for Aristide to start taking measures
in his second term in office to reverse the heavy police
involvement. It is up to him to remind the police that their proper
task is to guarantee freedom and combat crime. And, indeed, since
January the Miami customs authorities seem to be better informed
(3) and seizures are a distinct improvement on previous results.
Nonetheless, it is likely that the peasants in Port-de-Paix and
dockers in Miragoâne will be looking to the drugs trade to help
line their pockets for some time to come, and the drugs barons in
the El Rancho hotel will still have a place by the pool.
* Senior lecturer at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers
(1) Haiti, Guide découverte, Gallimard, Paris, 2001.
(2) Statement by Madeleine Albright, reported by Reuters, 3 January
(3) Miami Herald, 16 January 2001, and Associated Press, 1 February
Translated by Barbara Wilson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2001 Le Monde diplomatique
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