March 19, 2004

Concern over the Aristide government?s involvement in illegal drugs trafficking has been cited as one of the main reasons why the US was keen to see the Haitian leader leave.

The annual US state department report assessing the co-operation of foreign governments in the war against drug trafficking, published on 1 March, strongly criticizes the Aristide government.

Launching the report, a top state department narcotics official said some members of the Aristide government had drugs links.

“We do know that elements of that government were corrupt and shot through with drug money,” Robert Charles said.

The state department report quotes frequent allegations that “members of the government and the Haiti National Police, most notably the Presidential Security Unit and the Palace Guard, were actively involved in drug trafficking”.

Another recent US Narcotics Control Report said about 8% of illegal drugs entering the United States had passed through Haiti.

Drug wars

The use of Haiti as a transhipment point for cocaine and other drugs produced in Latin America and destined for US markets is thought to have begun as long ago as the 1980s under “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

When he was ousted, the military groups fighting for control of Haiti were often said to be financed by drugs money.

The military regime, which overthrew Mr Aristide in September 1991 was reported to be in the pay of Colombian drugs cartel bosses, with the head of police Michel Francois allegedly controlling the trade.

In those days, Mr Aristide was seen as “Mr Clean”. But when he came back to power in 1994, and during his second term from 2000, accusations surfaced regularly of his government?s corruption, particularly with regards to taking drugs money.

The most recent of these come from Beaudoin Ketant, a former close confidant of Mr Aristide?s, and his daughter?s godfather. When he was convicted on drugs charges in a Florida court at the end of February 2004, he directly attacked Mr Aristide.

“He controlled the drug trade in Haiti. He turned the country into a narco-country. It?s a one-man show. You either pay (Aristide) or you die,” Mr Ketant told the court.

Mr Aristide?s lawyer denied the allegation, and the US has not directly accused the former president of involvement.

Easy money

At the same time, the rebels who ousted Mr. Aristide have also been linked to the illegal drugs trade.

One of the rebel leaders, Guy Philippe, allegedly had his US visa revoked because of involvement in the drugs trade when he was police commissioner of the north coast city of Cap-Haitien.

Another prominent rebel, Jodel Chamblain, is known to have been close to Michel Francois in the early 1990s, when he was one of the leaders of the FRAPH paramilitaries.

He has also been sentenced to life imprisonment for the death of a businessman and the 1994 killing of Aristide supporters.

Sympathizers of the former president have also alleged that the rebels who took control of Haiti in February 2004 were directly financed by drugs money, but there has so far been no proof of this.

Presenting the US state department report, Assistant Secretary Charles called for all drugs money to be “banished” from the Haitian economy.

“It brings with it so many devastating consequences: health, economic, societal,” he said.

But in a country where almost three-quarters of the population live in abject poverty, the temptation to earn easy money from the drugs trade is always going to be a threat to stability.