From Sun Feb 29 14:15:05 2004
Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004 11:43:29 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 19472: sanjousp: Drug money reportedly funding Haiti fighting (fwd)


Drug money reportedly funding Haiti fighting

By Gary Marx and Cam Simpson, Chicago Tribune, 29 February 2004

U.S. says island nation a key stop on cocaine highway

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—If they take power, the Haitian rebels closing in on this capital city are promising a new and more democratic era in this historically troubled and violent country.

But experts and diplomats say several of the top rebel leaders are former military and police officials who are suspected of major human-rights violations while in power and who allegedly have financed their insurgency with past profits from the illegal drug trade.

That puts the would-be leaders on similar footing with the government of embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who U.S. officials and others say has allowed Haiti to become one of the region's most significant transit points for Colombian cocaine on its way to the United States.

Aristide has vehemently denied involvement in the drug trade, but others in his government have long been suspected by U.S. officials. At least six Aristide administration officials' travel visas have been revoked by the U.S. in recent years because of suspected involvement with narcotics trafficking, according to diplomatic sources.

Over the years, rampant corruption among police also has taken its toll. As residents of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, Haitian police and other law-enforcement officials have become easy targets for bribe-offering drug cartels, American officials said.

They were all on the payrolls, one senior U.S. law-enforcement official said, adding, There's nothing else to be involved in there if you want money.

The issue of alleged drug trafficking by the rebels and government officials in Haiti is a major policy concern for U.S. officials who have long considered the war on drugs one of their priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But as U.S. officials back away from Aristide, they risk helping to power a cadre of unsavory characters who may do little to stem the flow of cocaine and other illicit drugs into the United States, experts and diplomats say.

There is absolutely nothing redeeming about these guys, said Alex Dupuy, a Haiti expert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. They are a bunch of thugs. It's hard to imagine that the U.S. would want to support these guys back in power.

The two top rebel leaders have been suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Authorities in Haiti and elsewhere believe top commander Guy Philippe became involved in narcotics smuggling in the 1990s while he was a leading Haitian police official. Philippe denied in an interview with the Tribune that he ever participated in the drug trade.

Former paramilitary leader

The other commander in the insurgency, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, was a leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, a paramilitary group that killed several thousand Aristide supporters after Aristide was toppled in a 1991 military coup.

The group was allegedly bankrolled by former Haitian Police Chief Joseph Michel Francois, whom the U.S. indicted in 1997 on charges that he and six others ran a smuggling ring that shipped 33 tons of cocaine to the U.S. over a decade. Francois remains a fugitive.

We are not drug dealers, Chamblain said. On the contrary we are ready to help other countries fight drugs in Haiti.

Haiti's state institutions have long been weak because of the nation's devastated economy. And its now-crumbling police force and much of its political elite have been tainted by the cocaine trade, according to U.S. officials, experts and others.

For two decades, Colombian drug lords have used money and power to turn the island nation into a virtual base of operations, using its isolated beaches and even highways as landing strips to off-load cocaine later shipped to U.S. shores.

Judith Trunzo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, said last year that an interior minister's travel visa to the United States was canceled because of suspected involvement in narcotics trafficking.

At least five other Haitian officials' visas were canceled under similar suspicion, a diplomatic source said last week.

Paul Simons, a State Department anti-narcotics official, last fall told reporters in Washington that the U.S. was very concerned about the situation with respect to drug-related corruption in Haiti, adding that the Aristide government has done very little to cooperate with the United States to interdict the flow of drugs.

Simons said drug-related corruption was so great in Haiti that we really have no reliable interlocutor in the Haitian law-enforcement community that we can work with to attack the problem.

That point is brought home vividly on a video shot June 25, 2001, by an airborne U.S. surveillance team flying over Haiti.

At 11:41 p.m., the surveillance team spotted its second single-engine plane of the night, bearing a Colombian tail number, land on a dirt road near the town of Hinche. In less than 20 seconds, with the plane's single prop still whirring to facilitate a quick escape, a white SUV reverses through the dirt and backs up to the plane's side door, according to a copy of the tape.

I see at least five people I've counted so far, one of the agents on the surveillance team tells his colleagues of the traffickers on the ground, as the men drag bundles of cocaine through the dirt and heft them into the back of the SUV.

By 11:43 p.m. a man who appears to be supervising the operation also starts schlepping. Then the U.S. surveillance operator notices something.

That, he says of the apparent supervisor, is a police hat.

Elite police unit

Members of an elite police SWAT unit, shouldering assault rifles, are filmed conducting perimeter security at the makeshift airstrip, according to the tape and U.S. officials. By 11:46 p.m. the plane is emptied and in the air, and the white SUV, which U.S. officials say is a Haitian government vehicle paid for with aid money, is filmed speeding off with the cocaine in the opposite direction, its front license plate changed by one of the traffickers on the ground.

About a minute later, another plane lands, also bearing a Colombian tail number. According to U.S. officials familiar with the operation, the Haitian police on the ground now know, because of radio communication with the Americans, that they are under surveillance. They quickly move in and arrest the pilot and his passenger.

For U.S. officials involved, the tape merely captured what they already suspected. Drug corruption here, one senior official alleged, reaches into the highest levels of the government.

Last week, a Haitian drug dealer who pleaded guilty to shipping more than 30 tons of cocaine between Colombia and the U.S. alleged in a Miami courtroom that under Aristide, Haiti had become a narco-country. The dealer, Beaudoin Jacques Ketant, was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

But Ira Kurzban, general counsel to the Haitian government and an Aristide adviser, said Ketant's allegations were part of a smear campaign designed to weaken and oust Haiti's leader.

He said Aristide has carried out a major crackdown on narcotics trafficking, including the arrest and extradition of Ketant. Kurzban said critics were exaggerating the problem.

Is there a problem with drug trafficking? Certainly, Kurzban said. Is it a major problem? No.

In a recent interview with the Tribune, Aristide said the rebels, not his government, were closely tied to the narcotics trade.

Besides Philippe and Chamblain, several other rebel leaders are former Haitian military and police officials who held key positions a decade ago when cocaine trafficking flourished on the island, experts say.

Some of them [the rebels] are involved in drug trafficking, said a senior Western diplomat in Haiti, who said the current uprising involves a criminal element.

But a U.S. law-enforcement official said there was no evidence to suggest rebel leaders currently are involved in trafficking in Haiti because many of them had been in exile.

In interviews with the Tribune, Chamblain and Philippe said they were financing the insurrection primarily through donations from Haitians living in the U.S. and Canada.

Chamblain said his troops—who number in the hundreds and are armed with vintage American M-1 and M-14 rifles along with modern submachine guns and assault rifles—also are getting financial support from poor Haitians.

Bruce Bagley, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami who has long studied the narcotics trade, said Haitian officials have historically been corrupt and poorly paid, making them receptive to bribes.

U.S. invasion an interruption

Bagley said drug trafficking flourished in Haiti until 1994, when 20,000 U.S. troops invaded the island and ousted a military government that three years earlier had forced Aristide into exile. Aristide, who was the island nation's first democratically elected president, was returned to power.

The presence of U.S. forces forced Colombian traffickers to switch their shipment route through Mexico. But increased law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border coupled with bloody fights among rival cartels shifted the trade back to Haiti by 2000, Bagley said.

In a report last September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration described Haiti as one of the region's most significant trans-shipment countries for Colombian cocaine on its way to the United States. The report also said a significant amount of heroin and marijuana are smuggled through Haiti.

The DEA said Haiti's attractiveness to South American drug lords rests in its strategic location, its uncontrolled borders and lengthy coastlines, along with a lack of law-enforcement resources. Haiti has no army and its police force has about 3,500 members.

Drug traffickers have a virtual field day in Haiti, Bagley said.