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8626: Even the drug traffickers want out of Haiti

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

>From the Los Angeles Times
Even the drug traffickers want out of Haiti

By Mark Fineman
Times Staff Writer
Posted July 9 2001

GRAND-GOAVE, Haiti -- It was just over a year ago that a peasant mob in this 
poor coastal town ripped off a 4-ton shipment of Colombian cocaine -- a haul 
worth $20 million even at local prices.

Fishermen became instant millionaires. Farmers showered in celebratory beers 
at local nightclubs. And the sudden largess spawned a host of new social 

But the populist drug seizure here in a nation that had become a major 
transshipment hub for Colombian cocaine headed to the United States also 
pointed to the latest -- and perhaps strangest -- trend in Caribbean drug 

After a year of mass rip-offs, crashed drug planes and trashed getaway cars, 
not even the drug dealers, it seems, can tolerate desperate and dilapidated 

So dramatic is the decrease of the drug flow through this country of 8 
million that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and State Department 
have taken notice.

In its most recent narcotics report, the State Department concluded that 
Haiti accounted for just 8 percent of all cocaine that reached the United 
States last year, down from 13 percent in 1999.

But in Haiti's government and law-enforcement circles, there's little cause 
for pride.

``Little of this (decrease) is attributable to the efforts of the Haitian 
government,'' the report stated, adding that Haiti must still be regarded as 
a major transshipment point for South American narcotics. Rather, it cited 
such incidents as the grass-roots drug rip-off in Grand-Goave to explain one 
of the more unusual -- and inadvertent -- successes in the global drug war.

The State Department report noted that intensified U.S. Customs Service 
searches of Haitian freighters on the Miami River, which netted about 3 tons 
of cocaine last year, may have played a role in the decline. And it partly 
credited tough new counter-drug laws recently passed by Haiti's National 

But, it added: ``The largest factor (in the decrease) may be the 
difficulties traffickers experienced in moving drugs through Haiti because 
of poor infrastructure or the seizure of drugs by rival traffickers or other 

For example, airdrops of large shipments ``dropped significantly in 2000, 
particularly after several aircraft crashed trying to land on makeshift 
runways,'' the department said.

Another reason: increasingly brazen and impoverished citizens for whom 
cocaine has in recent years become ``the principal business in some coastal 

``Cocaine is widely known as manna from heaven throughout Haiti, as it has 
become a source of income for entire towns,'' it said.

There was the case last year of a drug plane that landed in Port-de-Paix on 
Haiti's north coast. Traffickers met the plane, shot a policeman and packed 
their SUV with the cocaine.

As the traffickers sped off on the town's rutted and neglected streets, 
though, the vehicle flipped. Within minutes, hundreds of residents set upon 
it and stripped it of the drugs.

Another drug plane was burned to a crisp in Leogane, 25 miles west of 
Port-au-Prince, by villagers who were outraged when the traffickers refused 
to share part of the shipment with them.

Grand-Goave is a model of the phenomenon. The populist cocaine seizure on 
June 9, 2000, has fundamentally changed the town by fostering social evils 
that were compounded when the drug flows went dry, local officials, radio 
correspondents and police officers say.

Grand-Goave, like most of the Haitian countryside, has always been poor. It 
has no hospital, park or professional school. It runs solely on a $2,700 
monthly federal handout for municipal salaries. With unemployment 
approaching 100 percent, the town's people have survived on subsistence 
farming and money sent from relatives in the United States and Canada.

But morally, it has been a God-fearing town where petty crime has been 
minimal and major crimes such as murder largely motivated by politics.

That all changed a year ago, residents say, the day two launches sped ashore 
and nearly the entire town turned out to meet them.

Grand-Goave's free-for-all began just moments after the 8,400 pounds of 
cocaine landed on a local beach about 5:30 a.m. Local police had been tipped 
off to the shipment; some were probably hired protection for the 
traffickers, said one local officer who asked not to be identified.

Soon, the police were overwhelmed by thousands of townspeople, most armed 
with machetes or homemade guns. Outnumbered, the police ultimately gave up 
and, witnesses said, even helped distribute the sacks. In the end, the 
police officially seized just 300 pounds.

They rest became Grand-Goave's gross national product for the year to come.

``Simple fishermen became millionaires overnight,'' said one commentator at 
Radio Saka, the local station where broadcasters asked not to be identified 
by name for fear of retaliation.

``People were pouring into the local nightclubs and showering themselves 
with bottles of beer. In time, it corrupted the town at its most basic 
level. And today, the biggest impact of all this cocaine is a new sense of 

Many of the townsfolk who scored a bag or two sold some of the drugs and 
bought weapons to protect the rest. With sudden disposable income, there was 
a new market for prostitution, and the local radio commentators say girls as 
young as 12 entered the trade.

But now the money and much of the drugs are gone, they said. Some of the 
instant millionaires have taken to stealing bicycles or other household 
goods to support new drug habits. And no more manna has landed from heaven 
in the past 12 months.

``We haven't seen anything like this since,'' said another Radio Saka 
journalist. ``When this thing happened, they were saying that Haiti was one 
of the biggest routes for drugs. Now, since the Ninth of June last year, we 
haven't heard anything about drugs here.

``Before, the drug dealers were doing business with the police. But when the 
people got involved, the price for the dealers became too high.''
Copyright  2001, The Los Angeles Times

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