It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Drug Trafficking: A Continuing Threat to Democracy in Haiti by Stanley Lucas

The recent raids authorized by president Rene Preval in the towns of Gonaives, les Cayes and Port-au-Prince by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has once again thrust Haiti’s drug trafficking problems to the forefront. While Haitian leaders have made some strides against the problem, their strategy is, at best, ad hoc and seems to ignore key elements of the problem. The government has made efforts to go after the gangs, who are well-funded especially by the Venezuelan drug trade, but it must also focus on those illegal elements in the business community that allow the business end of trafficking to function.-------------------------------

The Network

Haiti is a major transit point for cocaine destined for the United States. More than 80 percent of the cocaine going through Haiti comes by air from Venezuela, and the amount of cocaine smuggled from Venezuela through Haiti increased by 167 percent from 2005 to 2006. The cocaine cartels are so powerful in Haiti that they control parts of the National Palace, the police, the courts, parliament, and the banks. They undermine the rule of law, foster corruption, import weapons, finances elections, and sponsor violent gangs. ----------------------------------------------------------------

Under ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, this network of cartels benefited from the full political support and blessing of the Aristide government. He was considered their “godfather” or “patron”. He promoted police officers managing the drug traffic for him, and created a network of gangs and thugs to enforce and implement the system. A network of 32 top police commissioners reported directly to Aristide. In 2000, nine of them challenged Aristide over the sharing of narco- profits, and Aristide staged a coup in order to fire them. They left Haiti for the Dominican Republic. After Aristide’s resignation, the DEA arrested associates of Aristide including the well known: Oriel Jean, the head of presidential security, arrested later by the US DEA; Police Chief Nesly Lucien, Aristide’s top associate; Fourel Celestin, the President of the Senate; and others.

In order to make the system of trafficking run effectively, three major groups have formed: the first group is the heads of the cartels and the traffickers; the second is the strategists, the businessmen and the money launders; and, the third is the former military officers that became police commissioners in 1995 with the creation of the Haitian National Police (HNP).----------

Where are they now?

After Aristide’s resignation and departure in 2004, the network of the first group, the leaders of the cartels, was partly dismantled by the Latortue government and MINUSTAH. On the run for the past three years, efforts have been made by this group to rebuild and reorganize their network to regain their power. Operation Baghdad I and Baghdad II, the bloody campaigns of violence and kidnapping undertaken by the gangs in over the past few years, were conceived to maintain instability and create conditions for the cocaine trade with Venezuela. These conditions were also aimed at showing that the sine quo non of stability was linked to the return of their godfather, Aristide. While this was going on, Fanmi Lavalas selected ten candidates linked to drug trafficking, racketeering and political violence for the upcoming senate elections scheduled for December 2007. Most of them are known for political assassination, drug trafficking, corruption, gang activities and human rights violations.---------------------------------------

The second group is equally dangerous, but tolerated by international policy makers living in Haiti because of the lack of blood on their hands. They are wealthy, have "legitimate businesses" and have access to local and international political power and policy makers. This group is the business end of the illegal operations. They control the banks that clean the narco-money. More importantly, they keep Aristide happy by transferring him his monthly share to various Caribbean offshore accounts. Most of the business people are US-educated and understand how to work the system in Washington, so they pay high priced lobbyists to tell the US leadership what they want them to hear. They participate in US-backed privatization programs to curry favor, and they know how to team up with U.S. business in order to clean the drug money. To give the impression that they are legitimate, they attend all the international business community meetings in Port-au-Prince, and generally play the DC game. --------------------------------------------------

They also play the game in Haiti. They control government contracts and have full access to the current president. In fact, they work with the President to develop the plan for which members of the cartels should be arrested and deported. They often prepare talking points for the president and use him as their mouthpiece. However, it is clear that the President is unaware of this larger dynamic and blind to their bigger agenda. President Preval has clearly been against narco-trafficking and would not consent to any of these measures if he was aware of the full situation.-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The third group are the military officers that became high ranking officers of the HNP in 1995. They were the protégés of Aristide and his associates for many reasons. First, some of them shared the so-called "populism" approach and claimed to be of the left. Second, they venerated Aristide. And, third they put aside the law to execute their leader’s political will through political assassination, intimidation, illegal arrest, extortion, drug trafficking, black market trading, corruption, and election manipulation. They shared the profits with Aristide, and in return they got carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. They played a major role in the manipulation of the May 21, 2000 elections using the police logistics to stuff the ballot boxes and change the results of the tally sheets. ---------------------------------------

The honeymoon between Aristide and these police commissioners went south by the end of 2000 when a conflict emerged over the sharing of cocaine revenues. In the past they gave him 65 percent of the cocaine revenues and kept 35 percent. They decided, on their own, that they would keep 60 percent and give 40 percent to Aristide. A conflict exploded among the partners. To remind them that he was the one running the show, Aristide transferred them to various abandoned cities throughout the country side. A week after the transfer, Aristide stated that they were plotting against him and fired them. They left for the Dominican Republic. During that time, Aristide maintained a love-hate relationship with them. He kept them away, but used them when needed. According to many analysts when the rallies of the democratic opposition were growing in numbers, Aristide need an excuse to crush them. He contacted his former associates exiled in the Dominican Republic to stage a coup d'etat and blame the democratic opposition. Investigations have shown that prior to the staged coup, Aristide’s key supporters had been given specific instructions on the targets to strike on December 17, 2001. As planned, the coup was staged and minutes later Aristide supporters burned the headquarters of many opposition parties and the residences of several political leaders of the opposition. They also burned headquarters of two unions and tried to burn many independent radio stations. Miraculously, many leaders of the opposition escaped political assassination. The most well known is Luc Mezadieu, who narrowly escaped assassination, although his bodyguard was burned to death by Aristide loyalist Amyot Metayer, known as Cuban.------------------------- ----------------------------------

Questions Haitian should ask

All three groups pose an equal threat to Haiti’s democracy. But it seems that justice is being applied unevenly and the business people are being "tolerated". Why? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why is no one questioning the ALBA deal between Venezuela and Haiti? The facts are that Venezuela is dropping 80 percent of the cocaine in Haiti. The Venezuelans facilitate the job of the Colombian traffickers that use Haiti as a platform to transfer cocaine to the US. Many observers question Haiti's relations with Venezuela. The cynics even ask if cocaine is included in the ALBA deal. It seems that the same people that are part of the business group in Haiti are the ones deeply involved in the ALBA deal with Venezuela.------------------------------------------------

Why doesn’t Haiti have a comprehensive strategy to combat drug trafficking? Reactions seems to be punctual, ad hoc and not part of a overall plan. The international community and various sectors of Haitian society including parliament, the parties and civil society should pressure the government to elaborate such long term policy. The Haitian police with the appropriate political support has the leadership capacity to rid the institution of the bad elements, strengthen the various services, and restore honesty and integrity in order to combat drugs. Unfortunately money laundering and other economic crimes are not getting the same attention as the violent crimes, and do not receive the appropriate political support. Most of these crimes, in fact, are ignored. For Haiti to succeed in the quest to build a democracy, the government needs to remain on the offense against all elements of drug trafficking, including those involved in economic crimes.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Where is the US involvement? President Preval signed an agreement with the United States allowing US authorities to intervene in order to stop and capture drug traffickers in Haiti. In some cases US authorities are allowed to operate alone and sometimes with the HNP. During his recent visit to DC, President Preval complained about of the lack of action and intervention by the American authorities who, he said, have only two agents in Haiti. Some analysts close to the President stated that Preval had a list of people to be taken to custody in Miami. However, the pressure that Preval has been applying in Washington is not being publicized in Haiti, which is the cause of much speculation over whether the President is under pressure from those elements of the business community to walk the line.