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Originally: Haiti’s Aristide denies his country is drug haven

 By Michael Deibert


PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide denied Wednesday that his country had become a haven for drug traffickers and charged that the recent suspension of U.S. travel visas for several Haitian officials was not based on concrete evidence.


U.S. officials announced Friday that Haiti — along with Myanmar and Guatemala — had failed to take sufficient actions to fight drug trafficking in the past year. It was the second time Haiti had been so designated in as many years.


“Haiti is not guilty of these charges. We are a poor country and we feel victimized by these actions,” Aristide told reporters after meeting David Lee, chief of the special mission of the Organization of American States to Haiti.


“The U.S. Coast Guard patrolling our waters sees boat people, but they never see boats transporting drugs.”


In its annual report on the global drug trade last year, the United States said Haiti was a major transit stop for South American drug cartels shipping illegal narcotics to lucrative North American and European markets.


It described the poor Caribbean nation as a “path of minimal resistance” for narco-traffickers due to weak democratic institutions, corrupt officials and a fledgling police force.


Following Friday’s announcement, Haiti’s most widely read paper, Le Nouvelliste, published a list of officials whose visas were allegedly revoked by the United States for involvement in drug trafficking. Many of those named were lawmakers and high-ranking officials in the Haitian National Police.


Some of those mentioned, including Clifford Larose, director of Haiti’s prisons, have since held news conferences confirming the revocation of their visas but denying their involvement in the drug trade.


Nawoon Marcellus, a deputy in Haiti’s lower house of parliament and a member of Aristide’s Lavalas Family political party, charged that the revocation of his visa was based on religious rather than criminal grounds.


“This is religious persecution,” Marcellus, a member of Haiti’s small Islamic community, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “They took my visa not because I am a drug trafficker, but because I am a Muslim.”


Citing privacy laws, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince declined to comment on the specifics of the case.


Aristide was first elected to the presidency in this impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million in 1990 but ousted in a coup months later. U.S. troops helped restore him to power in 1994.


Since his re-election in November 2000, he has been locked in a bitter dispute with opposition politicians over May 2000 parliamentary elections that observers said were rigged to favor Aristide’s Lavalas Family party. The conflict has resulted in the suspension of $500 million of international a